With Russia’s air campaign in Syria entering its third month, more than 400 Syrian civilians have fallen victim to Russian air strikes since September 30, according to Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) group.
A total of at least 100,000 civilians were forced to leave Aleppo countryside due to intense and continuous Russian air strikes, SNHR group reported, while a total of 1,000 internally displaced civilians fled a refugee camp in Atma, located in the suburbs of the province of Idlib.
On Nov. 21, around 5,000 Syrians of the Turkmen minority were forced to flee their villages and seek refuge near the Syrian-Turkish border following Russia’s intense three-day air strikes on their villages and the ground assault of militias loyal to Assad in the Bayirbucak area in the outskirts of Latakia, local sources reported.
President of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly, Abdurrahman Mustafa, accused the Russian air force of trying to clear out the area in an attempt to create a safe enclave for its ally, Assad.
Russian fighter jets have hit several residential areas in Syria, including Aleppo, Homs, Damascus, Idlib, Latakia, Hama, Raqqa, and Deir Ezzor provinces.
The Syrian National Council (SNC) stated in a report it released on Nov. 30 that since the start of Moscow’s air campaign in Syria, the Russian air force has conducted a total number of at least 3,668 air strikes on residential areas and towns, including 3 schools, 14 hospitals, 2 markets, factories, bakeries and a water treatment plant.
Rami Jarrah, a Syrian media activist currently located in Aleppo told Times that there are “10 to 15, sometimes 20 airstrikes a day.”
Russian airstrikes have also reportedly targeted at least 12 medical facilities throughout Syria, according to a Doctors Without Borders report published on October 29.
The Kremlin claims that its military operation in Syria is to target ISIS. However, most of the Russian jets’ strikes have hit residential areas under the control of fighting factions opposed to both Assad and ISIS. Reports have shown that Russian air strikes are bolstering Assad’s power rather than hinder the presence of ISIS in Syria, according to activists, analysts, and the West.
“Greater than 90% of the strikes that we’ve seen them take to date have not been against Isil or al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Oct. 7.
“They’ve been largely against opposition groups that want a better future for Syria and don’t want to see the Assad regime stay in power,” Kirby continued.
UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon also said in a statement on Oct. 3 that only five percent of Russian air strikes had targeted ISIS.
"We're analysing where the strikes are going every morning," he said. "The vast majority are not against ISIS at all."
During the Climate Change Summit, US President Barack Obama urged Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 30 on the importance of targeting ISIS in Syria and not focusing Moscow’s military attacks against fighting groups who oppose Assad.
On Nov. 17, militants affiliated with ISIS claimed the downing of a Russian plane in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Following the incident, Moscow announced that it will be intensifying its campaign against ISIS.
Yuri Barmin, a Moscow-based analyst at Rethinking Russia and the Russian International Affairs Council, told Times on Nov. 30 that the Kremlin had doubled the number of fighter jets operating out of its Hmeimim airbase in Latakia, in north-western Syria, in a decision issued following the downing of the Russian plane.
Even though such claims were made by Moscow, the opposition-held areas have not seen a clear sky since then with the latest attack on a popular marketplace on Nov. 29 in Ariha in Idlib province, resulting in the death of more than 40 civilians and wounding more than 70.
In addition, a group of citizen journalists from the ‘Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently’ network reported on Sunday the use of the banned white phosphorus during Russian airstrikes on the de facto capital of ISIS, Raqqa.
Shocking images posted to Twitter showed the night sky lit up with the potentially controversial incendiary weapon launched by Russian fighter jets, as it rained down on the populated town of Raqqa.
According to international law, the use of the highly flammable chemical is prohibited in densely populated areas as it is reportedly known to be highly toxic and can burn through skin and bone.
On 13 Nov., local witnesses in the opposition-controlled city of Idlib in north-western Syria told the Times that dozens of civilians had suffered “horrific injuries” following two attacks using what is believed to be the banned white phosphorus.
Ahmed, an activist based in Idlib, was quoted by the Times newspaper as saying that “we knew it was phosphorus because the entire sky lit up and when it settled it set everything on fire.”
US officials and experts have accused Vladimir Putin’s forces of lacking the sufficient accuracy and intelligence reports to carry out air strikes without undue danger to civilians.
The US Air Force’s senior intelligence officer, Lt. Gen. Robert P. Otto, told reporters just two days following Russia’s start of air campaign in Syria that it appears that the Russian air forces are using “dumb bombs” instead of high-tech weapons guided by lasers or satellites, adding that Russia lacked precision-guided weapons which would likely induce significant loss of civilian life as a result.