In a recent attack on a Syrian market on 14 November, at least 53 have been killed. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, three air strikes hit a market in Atareb, a Western province of Aleppo. It is unclear who committed the act, with blame fluctuating between Syrian warplanes or planes from Damascus in compliance with their ally Russia.
Atareb is supposed to be a “de-escalation” zone- a decision that was established between Russia, Turkey, and Iran in efforts to reduce the ongoing violence in Syria. Reuters got information from UN Humanitarian advisor Jan Egeland that although these zones, including Atareb, never concretely got less violent, that there has been a huge rise in murderous attacks in the regions. However, this specific attack on this established “peaceful” zone should be interpreted not only as a horrific violation, but insight on how the violence in these zones is likely to escalate as they become increasingly illegitimate.
There have been many videos of the attack flooding social media, all of which display the gravity and egregious human rights violations of the situation. The South China Morning post described men “drenched in blood” and the corpses of children laid out next to the rubble of what was formerly a market. When the attack initially happened, there were confirmed to be at least 20 deaths. However, in just six days the death toll has increased to 53. Civilian casualties are likely to increase as there were many civilians that were injured as well, although there are no concrete numbers indicating just how many people this includes.
One of the jihadist groups fighting in the rebellion, the Tahrir al-Sham group, are claiming that the culprit of the attack was the Syrian government. While being formerly tied to Al Qaeda, they deny having any foreign motivation and that they are independently working to bring down the current Syrian president. They are convinced that the attack was the doing of the Syrian government, working alongside Russia and Iran, and claim that they will no longer entertain the idea of ceasefire talks between other rebel forces and will keep fighting both the government, and the government’s allies. Their statement on the attack reads, “this aggression and crime confirms for us that there is no solution with the colonizers without fighting and struggling.”
Although there is no certainty surrounding who the real perpetrators of the airstrikes are, it has already led to more violence. Only two days after the market strikes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Tahrir al-Sham group and the Nur al-Din al-Zanki movement got into a violent clash in Aleppo. While there is no information surrounding the human casualties of the incident, it is undeniable that the violence served to further terrorize and affect the nonviolent civilians of Syria. The ambiguity of the airstrikes was inevitably used by the jihadist groups to further propagate their own anti-government rhetoric, and it developed a precedent in terms of the re-escalation of violence in these “de-escalation” zones.