#PutinAtWar: Air Raid Hit Refugee Camp

As displaced persons evacuated Ghouta, they were greeted to fresh air strikes in Arihah, Syria

Left: (Source: GoogleMaps); Right: (Source: Twitter / @JennRollins1002).

Air raids continued to ravage Syria despite declarations of short-term ceasefires. As most of Eastern Ghouta fell in late March, an agreement was reached for the rebels to safely retreat from the town of Irbin further into northern Syria. The town of Arihah in Idlib province was one of the cities that agreed to host the internally displaced people. By March 26, a camp was erected to shelter 1,000 people. The process of settlement was allegedly disturbed by an air raid on April 1. As the newly surfaced video sparked discussion on Twitter, @DFRLab took a deeper look at the situation in Arihah.

Alleged Air Raid

On March 26, tents in the city of Arihah (Ariha) were prepared to shelter 1,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) from the town of Irbin in Eastern Ghouta. On the same day the camp was erected, the first IDPs moved into their temporary homes in Southern Idlib, Northern Syria. The newly erected camp had 185 tents and was located in the northeastern part of the city. The camp was placed at a local sports center and a football field. Reportedly, rebels and their families were allowed to leave Irbin, and a similar agreement was reached with the Russians in the nearby city of Harasta. 
 
On April 1, a video surfaced on YouTube claiming to have captured an air raid on the newly erected IDP camp. Discussions on Twitter erupted, with some of the Twitter users asking for evidence.

The video snippet provided only 28 seconds of footage, and currently serves as the only recorded evidence of the attack. The reverse image search suggested that the video was not published before and is most likely genuine. The video was taken at the western part of the sports center. The blue tents of the camp had been erected on the center’s basketball court, and were marked with red crescents.

Geolocation of the Arihah IDP camp. Left, Bottom Right: (Source: GoogleMaps); Top Right: (Source: Twitter / @JennRollins1002).

Limited video imagery confirmed the location to be in the town of Arihah. The video was taken on the basketball court and the approximate location of the explosions was most likely the football field.

Geolocation of the Arihah IDP camp. Left: (Source: GoogleMaps); Right: (Source: Twitter / @JennRollins1002).

We found a few photos from the day the IDP camp was opened and used these findings to cross-check the location. The location in the April 1 air raid video matched the pictures provided by the local Syrian Smart News Agency. This cross check confirmed that the IDP camp that was established by March 26 was recorded in the video.

Comparison of March 26 photo and April 1 video. Left: (Source: GoogleMaps); Top Right: (Source: Twitter / @JennRollins1002); Bottom Right: (Source: SmartNews).

The April 1 video was also posted on the Syrian Network for Human Rights website, further confirming the claim that the video is genuine.
 
It is currently unclear who is responsible for the attack, as the claims differed from post to post. Russia and the Assad regime were both mentioned as potential perpetrators.

Additional Evidence of Bombing in Arihah

@DFRLab checked if any additional attacks were carried out in the region of Arihah around that period of time. Numerous air attacks hit the city, starting as early as March 31.
 
On March 31, a local Syrian news media outlet released a report a report in English and claimed to have recorded the aftermath of a Russian air raid.

The video did not contain enough geolocation details to be confirmed, nor did it have evidence of the responsible military. Nonteheless, a reverse image search suggested that the video is likely to be genuine and it was posted on the official Orient News website both in English and Arabic.

Another video surfaced on April 4 and claimed to have recorded the aftermath of an air raid on Arihah. This video had enough details to geolocate, and we confirmed the location to be the south-western part of the city.

Air raid on Arihah, on April 4. (Source: Twitter / @QalaatAlMudiq)

Another video claimed to have captured the aftermath of another air raid bombardment on area of market near Great Mosque in the old town.

Aftermath of a bombardment. Middle: (Source: WikiMapia); Left, Right: (Source: Twitter / @QalaatAlMudiq)

The Assad regime and Russia are likely culprits of these crimes, which was not based on available open source but rather an established pattern of behavior. Regardless of this fact, there are no doubts that aerial attacks were being carried out before and after the attack on the IDP camp.

The exact numbers of dead or injured is unclear. According to the head of White Helmets civil defense agency in Idlib, airstrikes on civilian settlements in the Idlib and Hama regions have left 112 civilians dead and 110 injured since March 11, 2018.

Conclusion

Currently there is not enough open source evidence to confirm who was behind the attacks in Arihah. Various organizations, including the White Helmets civil defense agency argued that Russia had a part in these attacks. Just a few days after the first IDPs transferred from Irbin, air raids began hitting the town. Both Assad regime forces and the Russian Air Force are possible culprits of these attacks and they seem to be choosing their targets with no consideration for civilians. An IDP camp full of civilians was hit by an air raid before it’s construction was completed. War crimes against civilians continue to be committed in Syria and continue to go unanswered.
 
@DFRLab will continue to monitor Russian military operations and developments in Syria.


Lukas Andriukaitis is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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