Attack on Displacement Settlements: Russian & Syrian Cooperation?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez
Director of Educational Programs & Managing Editor

November 8, 2022

On Sunday, November 6, the Syrian government fired approximately 30 rockets on displacement settlements located west of the Syrian city, Idlib. First responders identified Russian collaboration, in conjunction with the Syrian regime, amid this fatal operation. Various officials from the international community have expressed concern that this military cooperation reflects a larger geopolitical trend: Russian cooperation with the East. 

The attack invoked 75 injuries and ten fatalities including three children at makeshift camps. According to the Jordan Times, “shelling continued later in the morning at several locations in the area, and rebels targeted government positions in retaliation for the strikes… In the late afternoon, the Syrian military launched a new round of strikes on Kafr Lata in southern Idlib, killing one person and injuring three others while they were picking olives.”

Residents of the displacement camp provided first-hand accounts of the attack. Written in Arab News, Abu Hamid, a camp resident, said: ‘We awoke this morning and were getting ready for work when we began hearing the sounds of strikes…The children were afraid and began screaming. We didn’t know where to go. It wasn’t one rocket or two, but a dozen. The shrapnel was flying from every direction. We didn’t know how to protect ourselves.’”

Sunday’s rockets supposedly came as a response to a recent attack conducted by a Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) affiliate; this operation killed five Syrian regime forces members. Explained in Turkey’s TRT World, “Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), headed by ex-members of Syria’s former Al Qaeda franchise, is one of the armed groups in the [Idlib] area but other rebel groups are also active. HTS has been designated as a terrorist organisation by Türkiye, the US, and the EU because of its former affiliation with Al Qaeda.”

On Saturday, the day prior to the Idlib attack, Russia’s defense ministry asserted that Al-Qaeda and associated groups were planning suicide drone operations. Written in Syria’s state-controlled news agency, SANA, Russian defense ministry cited that Al-Qaeda and the Turkistani Islamic Party were preparing to carry out an attack on the Hmeimim base in Lattakia countryside using suicide drones. ‘Workshops affiliated to the terrorist organizations in the Khirbet al-Jawz area in Idlib countryside have finished assembling a large number of unmanned planes and equipped them to carry out the attack on the base,’ Major General Oleg Yegorov, head of the Russian Coordination Center in Hmeimim, said in a press statement. The Russian military commander added that according to the terrorists’ plots, using large number of drones may impede the Russian air defenses, divert their routes, and strike the Hmeimim Air Base.”

Fadel Abdel Ghani, chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), believes that this attack was a joint premeditated strike from both Syrian and Russian forces. Written in the Middle East Eye, Adbul Ghani stated that “‘Russia portrays its operations in Syria as a prominent success story and aims to send a message to the Russian community that it is a great power, that it is a victorious and influential party in this world – to cover for its losses in Ukraine’…He added that Russian and Syrian attacks in northern Syria have killed around 51 civilians, including 22 children and five women, since the beginning of this year.”

Despite this reputation, Russian military engagement in Syria seems to have, in some ways, decreased. Written in the Times of Israel, Russia has drawn down forces in Syria, including removing a sophisticated air defense system that has been a major threat to Israeli Air Force operations in the country…The transfer of the S-300 anti-aircraft system out of Syria comes amid a larger Russian drawdown in the country as it seeks to bolster its faltering offensive against Ukraine.”

Nevertheless, Moscow’s collaboration with the Assad regime highlights the juxtaposition of Russian-Western relations with Russian-Eastern relations. In late October, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated Russia plans to diplomatically draw down from the ‘Russophobic’ West. Written in The Jerusalem Post, Lavrov “is signaling that the future of Russia is in the East…It is one more step, one more symbol, of Russia’s rapid adjustment toward the East. That means Russia will focus more on countries linked to the SCO and CICA, two international groupings that recently met in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, respectively. Russia is meeting with China, India, Iran, Turkey, the Central Asian states and other countries that it wants to work with, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Pakistan and Malaysia. It also meets with the countries it sees as traditional friends, including Venezuela [and] Syria.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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