On the 8th Anniversary of Russian Military Intervention in Syria, Attacks on Syrian Civilians Persist
Russian military assaults continue in Syria, along with its blatant violations of international human rights laws and humanitarian principles as attacks on civilians and civilian area continue unabated and with no justice and accountability in sight.
Eight years have passed since the onset of direct Russian military intervention in Syria on September 30, 2015, as declared by Russia. This aggression radically reshaped the political and humanitarian landscape, leaving behind immediate and enduring catastrophic consequences for the Syrian people. As the international community's disturbing silence in the face of Russia's heinous crimes in Syria and its evasion of accountability, the situation remains grim.
The direct Russian military intervention in support of the Assad regime was not merely military support to an ally, but rather an aggression against Syria and the Syrian people driven by geopolitical interests, displacing civilians in mass and reducing entire cities and towns to rubble.
Russian military assaults continue in Syria, along with its blatant violations of international human rights laws and humanitarian principles, entering an eighth year. Furthermore, these attacks continue unabated, despite the ceasefire agreement declared on March 5, 2020, casting a dark shadow over the Syrian people's hopes for peace and stability.
Attacks and Victims
Russian attacks, as documented by The White Helmets, numbered 5,741 assaults. This figure excludes unresponded and joint attacks, along with assaults in inaccessible regions. Over eight years (from September 30, 2015, to September 17, 2023), these attacks resulted in 4,072 civilian deaths, including 1,165 children and 754 women. Additionally, 8,426 civilians were injured, with 2,154 children and 1,709 women among them.
In 2016, Russian forces caused the highest casualties (1,076 deaths, 2,611 injuries), followed by 2018 (1,076 deaths, 1,707 injuries). White Helmets teams lost 49 volunteers, and 163 others were injured due to Russian attacks.
The White Helmets responded to 265 massacres (each attack resulting in 5 or more deaths) committed by Russian forces since their direct military intervention in 2015. These massacres led to the death of 2,784 civilians, including 873 children and 552 women, and the injury of 3,442 others, including 884 children and 753 women. Most of the massacres occurred by targeting civilian homes, markets, and crowded places, aiming to cause the highest possible number of civilian casualties.
Russian attacks have focused on urban centers, civilian homes, and vital facilities with the aim of displacing civilians and destroying anything that supports life and stability. These attacks resulted in 3,837 assaults on civilian homes, leading to the deaths of 3,221 civilians, including 1,001 children and 651 women. The assaults also targeted agricultural lands in 981 attacks, resulting in the deaths of 102 people, including 27 children and 14 women. Furthermore, 336 attacks on roads led to the deaths of 123 individuals, including 22 children and 10 women.
The attacks on popular markets were particularly destructive, with 54 attacks on crowded markets resulting in the deaths of 356 people, including 78 children and 53 women.
The deliberate Russian attacks systematically targeted public civilian facilities and vital facilities protected according to international agreements in times of conflict. Hospitals were subjected to 70 attacks, most of which became of service due to building and equipment destruction. Despite the fact that the coordinates of most of these sites are within areas where conflicts between the United Nations and Russia are being resolved, attacks on hospitals led to the deaths of 42 civilians and injuries to 145 others.
Forests were targeted in 72 attacks, as were 64 attacks on White Helmets centers and teams, 49 attacks on public buildings, and 46 attacks on schools. Russian assaults also targeted mosques, bakeries, refugee camps, and other public and vital facilities.
Russian direct and deliberate bombardment of vital facilities in general and poultry farms in particular has become a threat to the livelihoods and sources of income for hundreds of families in northwestern Syria. This has led to a significant increase in the prices of essential goods and poses a serious threat to livestock in northwestern Syria. It serves as a means to create challenges for families who have nothing left after years of conflict, forcing them to leave their lands to escape bombardment and to exacerbate food insecurity, relying entirely on humanitarian aid to survive.
Over the past three years, The White Helmets documented at least 14 attacks on poultry farms in many villages in the countryside of Idlib and Aleppo, including Maarat Misreen, Kafr Daryan, and Al Jadidah. These attacks resulted in civilian casualties and the death of thousands of poultry.
Russian Attacks by Provinces
The Russian attacks targeted 1,112 villages, towns, and cities in 8 provinces. These attacks, numbering more than 5,741 since the intervention began, were spread across most Syrian provinces. Idlib suffered the most significant impact, with 3,511 attacks, followed by Aleppo and its countryside with 1,190 attacks, then Hama with 525 attacks. The Russian assaults also affected the provinces of Rural Damascus, Daraa, Homs, Latakia, and Damascus during the past years.
Russian Attacks in 2023
Russian military airstrikes resumed on May 26, 2023, after a hiatus since December 2022. During the month of May, three attacks were launched. The Russian air force intensified its airstrikes in June, conducting nine attacks that resulted in the death of 11 men and injuries to 61 people, including ten children.
On June 24, Russian military aircraft targeted a farm in the village of Al-Najiyah in the western countryside of Jisr al-Shughur, Idlib province, killing two men.
On June 25, Russian military aircraft targeted a vegetable market in the city of Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib province, resulting in the death of nine men and injuries to 61 people, including ten children.
On August 5, Russian warplanes targeted a house on a cattle farm in the village of Ain al-Sheeb, killing three civilians (a man, his wife, and their son) and injuring six others, including a woman.
Additionally, a water pumping station on the outskirts of the village of Ain Sheeb in the western countryside of Idlib was hit by Russian airstrikes on August 22. This attack left two civilians dead and five others injured, including a girl, a boy, and a woman.
The weapons used in attacks on civilians by Russian forces have varied, with the majority being airstrikes. White Helmets teams responded to a total of 5286 Russian airstrikes. Russia also used internationally banned cluster bombs in 319 attacks and incendiary weapons in 130 attacks. Additionally, Russia carried out four attacks using drones and two attacks using ground-to-ground missiles from warships.
Russia continues to supply the Assad regime with various types of weapons used to kill civilians. Among these are laser-guided Krasnopol artillery shells, which have high accuracy and are used by regime forces to target civilians and White Helmets teams. This has resulted in a large number of casualties, especially in 2021 due to the regime's use of this type of weapon.
The deliberate killing and systematic targeting of White Helmets volunteers were intimately tied to Russia's media warfare, a campaign initiated long before its direct military intervention in Syria Syrians. Misleading information was crafted with a direct aim: to stain the volunteers' reputation, labeling them as terrorists, all to facilitate subsequent operations, primarily, killings. The warped narrative became "we killed terrorists," despite the volunteers engaging in vital humanitarian missions – saving lives and aiding civilians under brutal, deliberate terrorist attacks by both the regime and Russia.
This branding, implying terrorism, served as a chilling justification for attacks and the deliberate targeting of these volunteers. According to international humanitarian law, humanitarian workers are neutral entities, and targeting them amounts to a war crime. Attempts to strip them of this status, in essence, make them legitimate targets for Russia. This sinister agenda has been Russia's focus for years.
The ongoing smear campaign against the White Helmets aimed to create a deeply negative perception, intending to block crucial documents owned by the organization from reaching international platforms, documents that unequivocally condemn the violations committed by the regime and Russia against Syrians.
Russian media manipulation has been relentless, attacking the White Helmets both institutionally and individually, attempting to tarnish their image and falsely accusing them of executing chemical attacks or fabricating rescue operations involving chemicals all in a calculated attempt to manipulate public opinion and undermine the institution.
Unprecedented Impunity and an Urgent Call for Accountability in Syria
So far, there has been no accountability for Russia's disproportionate and indiscriminate use of weapons against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Syria. This lack of consequences has emboldened Russia to experiment with new weapons in civilian areas. Simultaneously, Russia is using Syria as a testing ground to assess the international community's commitment to preventing and prosecuting atrocities against civilians.
The White Helmets have sounded the alarm, affirming that civilians are being deliberately and accurately targeted and killed. It is imperative for the international community to address this impunity and safeguard civilians in accordance with the laws governing the use of force.
Eight years have elapsed since the commencement of Russia's terrorist attacks on Syrian civilians in support of the Assad regime. Unfortunately, there are no indications of these attacks ceasing or progress being made towards a political solution in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. This resolution, it seems, remains a mere formality and lacks substantial implementation.
The pursuit of justice, undertaken with unwavering determination, must be humanity's foremost priority. This approach ensures that no dictator or nation perceives a leniency that allows them to commit heinous acts and violate human rights with impunity. If Russian forces and their ally, the Assad regime, are held accountable for their crimes, it sets a precedent for holding dictators and criminals worldwide accountable in the future. However, their evasion of justice merely signifies that the next crime is a matter of when, not if.