This is the first of a series of research blog posts investigating unlawful attacks since the military offensive began on 18 February 2018 by Russian-backed Syrian government forces to root out armed opposition groups based in Eastern Ghouta, Syria. These include the use of indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, inaccurate heavy weapons in populated residential areas, and the failure to take necessary precautions in attack, resulting in civilian deaths and injuries and the destruction and damage of civilian objects. The attacks are researched by Cilina Nasser on a personal initiative to contribute in revealing the war crimes committed against civilians in Eastern Ghouta.
There are limitations to this research: the researcher is not in Eastern Ghouta to examine the location of the attacks; there are no financial resources to use satellite technology to show the before and after effects of the ongoing offensive; Eastern Ghouta is under siege since 2013 and therefore there are no refugees who left the area and crossed the border to Lebanon during this offensive to be interviewed in person.
The researcher therefore has relied on phone and online communication with victims and witnesses and verified their identities with other people. The researcher has corroborated witnesses’ testimonies through their lines of questioning and by comparing the information they provided with accounts of the same incident given by other sources.
The intensity of the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta has sometimes disrupted follow up work on certain cases. For example, in investigating the attack of Kafr Batna’s market below, a medical source said there were six children among those killed but gave no answer to a follow up question on details about these children. So this research blog post states that at least one child has been killed in the market because it has the testimony of another witness to the killing of this child.
Four witnesses were interviewed separately on 6 and 7 March 2018 on the below attack: two members of the civil defence who were dispatched to the scene immediately after the attack; a media activist who covered the attacks; a doctor at the medical facility that received the casualties of these attacks.
Airstrike on town’s market
On 5 March 2018, the main street in the town of Kafr Batna and a nearby residential building were hit in rapid succession by an aircraft killing 22 people, including at least one child, and injuring dozens.
Witnesses interviewed said they heard at least four missiles and the time of the attack was most likely around 6:30pm, according to a media activist who checked the time of phone messages he received and sent about the airstrike just after hearing the sound of the missiles.
Most of the casualties were in the main street, which is one of the main markets in Kafr Batna, with reportedly 20 people killed and dozens wounded there. Another two men were killed in a nearby residential building that was hit within seconds of the bombing of the market.
A doctor at the medical facility that received the casualties said most of the wounded persons sustained severe and/ or multiple injuries, including to the head, chest, stomach, as wells as some injuries that caused or required amputation.
A volunteer with the Civil Defence, who happened to be in the main street before the attack and returned to the area after the attack to help the wounded, recounted what happened:
“I passed the market on which the missiles landed just five to 10 minutes before the airstrike… it was crowded and there were probably over 80 people there… In normal days before the recent military offensive [that began on 18 February], there would be 300 to 400 people…
Most of the bombardment on that day had fallen on nearby towns like Hazze, Jisreen, Saqba and Hammouriye with only one attack that killed a man in Kafr Batna that day… it was relatively quiet and so sellers placed their goods on tables along the street offering very limited quantities of different things… usually, that would be a few small bags of flour, vegetables grown in Eastern Ghouta, like spinach, parsley, lettuce and cauliflower, and biscuits for kids.
When the aircraft hit the street, my colleagues and I got into our ambulances and rushed there… it was terrible, it was very tough… it was pitch dark and we didn’t dare to switch on the lights so that the warplane doesn’t return and hit us… we couldn’t see anything… so we started following the sound of shrieks of pain and cries for help. That’s how we knew where the wounded people were and ran towards the voices we’re hearing, carried them to the ambulance and took them to the nearest medical facility.
We placed five to seven people in each ambulance to evacuate the area as quickly as possible fearing that the warplane would come back and hit us.”
Another Civil Defence volunteer who went to the main street minutes after it was hit gave a similar account of what happened. While transporting the wounded, his ambulance crashed with another ambulance, because both vehicles had their lights switched off to avoid being targeted.
“When we arrived at the targeted area, it was as if the Day of Resurrection had come… we could only hear screams and people and children moaning in pain… it was so dark so we followed the voices [of the wounded]. There were planes flying over us so we couldn’t use any lights.
We took four wounded people, one guy and three children aged around 12 and 13, in our ambulance… one child had blood running from his head down his face; another kid had two injuries, in his hand and shoulder… I couldn’t see the injury of the man because he was covered with dust and had blood on his hands, clothes and face…
We were driving with our [ambulance] lights switched off so that the planes wouldn’t hit us. When we entered the street leading to the hospital, we crashed into the front of another ambulance that was on its way to pick up the wounded… The wounded kids who were with us and moaning in pain before the accident started screaming when we crashed thinking that the warplane was now targeting us… the only thing I could hear was children shouting, ‘please God, please God.’
As a result of the accident, I had an eyelid injury and bruises in the neck and shoulders, and my colleague had bruises to his back, neck and shoulders.”
A media activist was at the medical facility when a child from the Hanana family was brought in from the market. He said:
“As soon as the child arrived, the doctor opened his jacket to remove it so that she could examine him and I saw two packets of cigarettes that were in the inside pockets of the jacket, apparently to sell single cigarettes as has been the case at this market… usually people who need to get something, they’d go to this market, buy what they need and leave quickly. So all those who were killed or wounded were either sellers or children selling cigarettes or buyers.
The doctor did all she could to save this child, but he died.”
Attacks on residential buildings
At least one residential building was hit by at least one missile within seconds either before or after the market was bombed and it is just a street away from the market, which made people believe that one aircraft had targeted both locations.
Civil defence rescuers recovered the bodies of a dentist, Ahmad Wehbe, and a family member believed to be his father-in-law, Sobhi al-Bahsh, and they rescued two women and at least two children believed to be members of Ahmad Wehbe’s family. A doctor said that Ahmad Wehbe used to help in emergencies and provide first aid to cases of injuries at the medical facility in Kafr Batna.
Earlier, at around 4:10pm on the same day, at least one missile hit a residential area in Kafr Batna around 400 meters away from the market, according to a member of the civil defence who went to the scene to rescue the wounded. One man, Mohammad Arafa, from the nearby town of Hazze was killed while walking on the street and three men and four children were wounded.
March 16, 2018
December 19, 2013
July 26, 2013
July 9, 2013
Human rights researcher and blogger.