An air strike destroys a camp in Syria: Civilians still paying the price for the conflict

On 5 May 2016, a deadly air strike destroyed a camp for internally displaced Syrians close to the Syria’s border with Turkey leaving at least 30 people dead and many others injured. The death toll is likely to rise where many women and children are among the dead and injured. Two missiles hit the camp, say activists, leaving the camp in ruins. Sharif Abdulrahman Al-Sheikh, an activist and resident of the nearby town of Sarmada, told the Wall Street Journal that “the first early evening strike hit the edge of the camp and caused the most damage, setting about a quarter of it on fire and causing most of the fatalities.” As seen from videos and pictures of the incident posted on social media, blue tents were smoldering while victims were seen buried underneath remains.

The White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, condemned the action claiming that “there is no justifiable excuse for carrying out an airstrike against innocent civilians who have already once fled their homes to escape violence.” Earnest further argued that “these individuals are in the most desperate situation imaginable, and there is no justification for carrying out military action that’s targeting them.”

Activists have not reached a consensus on whether Russian or Syrian planes were behind the attack. However, according to Stephen O’Brien, UN humanitarian affairs chief, “the suspicion will fall initially on the Syrian government.” O’Brien called for an investigation on the incident notifying BBC that “we will want to make sure that [the Syrian Government], or whoever it is, are fully held to account for this absolutely abominable act.” According to him if the action is found to be deliberate, it “could amount to a war crime.”

On the other hand, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond claimed the attack was “horrifying”, in which the Syrian Regime shows “contempt for efforts to restore the cessation of hostilities in Syria [and] is clear for all to see.” Hammond also condemned the Assad regime “for continued violence despite international attempts at a cease-fire.” Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, also reported that “many in the opposition believe that with strikes like this there’s proof the government is not serious about the cessation of hostilities.” According to Earnest, if the attack is perpetrated by Assad’s government, “it would not at all be the first time.” The Syrian government, conversely, has denied any allegation on its involvement in the strike.

As per the Guardian account, the attack has risen the question of “the safety of refugees who were uprooted in the war and settled in refugee camps near the Turkish border.” In line with this, Turkey has repeatedly demanded for a safe air zone though it failed to get acceptance. The violence took place amid the efforts of the USA and Russia to extend the truce hold in Aleppo. Kamouna Camp, which is near Idlib province, shelters more than 2,000 refugees and is found far from any major cities or towns. The inhabitants of the camp came fleeing from the violence in the southern Aleppo Province. Idlib is mainly controlled by Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamist faction Ahar al-Sham which are categorized under terrorist groups by both Assad and Russia.


Yeshihareg Abebe