#BreakingSyria: Did Assad’s Forces Shell a Cemetery?

Investigating reports that Assad’s forces bombed a cemetery with people visiting their deceased relatives

Left: (Source: GoogleMaps); Right: (Source: Live Leak / seerc).

Recent shelling and skirmishes were reported in Syria’s northern Hama Province, which broke a rare period of calm across the country at the end of Ramadan. Syrian Arab Army (SAA) forces reportedly shelled Lataminah in northern Hama on Friday, June 15, as people marked the religious holiday of Eid al-Fitr (Eid). During the celebration of Eid, Muslims typically visit deceased relatives at local cemeteries and pay their respects. A video surfaced on June 16 that claimed to record SAA forces shelling a local cemetery in Al-Lataminah (Ltamenah) as locals were visiting their departed relatives.

@DFRLab analyzed the available open source information to verify these claims.

On June 13, the SAA forces started a wide scale attack on Hama Province and northern Daraa Province in southern Syria. On Saturday, June 16, pro-Assad outlets announced that rebels retaliated in northern Hama by striking regime soldiers at a checkpoint with an anti-tank guided missiles. Al-Lataminah and the surrounding area have been held by the opposition since December 2012. Since then, it was subjected to intense bombardment by Russian and regime forces, including incendiary munitions and chemical attacks.

On June 16, a video circulated on social media and claimed to depict a cemetery in Al-Lataminah being bombed by regime forces. In the video, a location closely resembling a cemetery was visible. People were recorded screaming and running with smoke plumes rising in the background. According to a reverse image search, this video was not posted before, suggesting the video was genuine.

Excerpt from the June 14 video, showing the bombardment of a cemetery. (Source: Live Leak / seerc)

@DFRLab confirmed the location in the video to be the cemetery in northern Al-Lataminah. LiveUAMap revealed that the town was still under rebel control on June 16, 2018. For months, the town of Al-Lataminah was on the frontlines of regime and rebel fighting, so the attack on this location was unsurprising.

LiveUAMap data from June 16, 2018. (Top Left Source: GoogleMaps / Bottom Left, Right Sources: LiveUaMap).

The distinct shapes of buildings next to the road in the video helped to identify the exact location of origin. The person recording the video was using one of the buildings on the northern complex to shelter himself from the attack.

Geolocation picture #1. (Left Source: GoogleMaps / Right Source: Live Leak / seerc).

Judging by the video, the bomb hit the southern part of the cemetery, as the smoke plume rose from that direction.

Geolocation Picture #2. Left: (Source: Live Leak / seerc); Right: (Source: GoogleMaps).

@DFRLab also checked the available satellite imagery to see if there were any visible changes on the terrain in that location. Comparing the available Planet.com satellite imagery of June 15, June 16 and June 19, the approximate location identified on the video showed minor terrain changes. The image of June 15 differed from both June 16 and June 19, suggesting that a bomb might have impacted this location.

Comparison of June 15, June 16 and June 19 satellite imagery. Coordinates: 35.331593 36.628812 (Source: Planet.com).

See below for a detailed comparison of satellite images from June 15 and June 19.

https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/juxtapose/latest/embed/index.html?uid=e8e417f6-7934-11e8-b263-0edaf8f81e27

This video does not reveal whether the Russian Air Force or regime forces were responsible for this attack, but most available posts quote Assad’s forces as the most likely perpetrator. According to various sources, at least two civilians were killed during this attack.

Conclusions

As rebel held territory in Syria continues to shrink, fighting for these territories only intensifies. The town of Al-Lataminah was bombed countless times with different ammunitions ranging from dumb bombs to incendiary munitions. This video demonstrated civilians killed during the celebration of Eid al-Fitr. Who is responsible for this attack and whether this attack was intentional — remains unclear. The bombing of cemetery on June 15–16 is yet another example of how brutal the fight for Syria is and that no place remained sacred during the struggle for control.

@DFRLab will continue to monitor significant military developments and operations in Syria.


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

Follow along for more in-depth analysis from our #DigitalSherlocks.