Yesterday’s U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria, targeting an al-Qaida command center in Idlib, resulted in the death of at least 11 civilians, according to the Center for Documentation of Violation in Syria (VDC).
On Monday the U.S., along with five Arab allies, began an airstrike campaign against ISIS and al-Nusra targets across northern and eastern Syria, including the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, and parts of Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and Hasakeh provinces.
As U.S. officials released photographic evidence of “significant damage” to ISIS training camps and headquarters, several activists and rebel groups in Syria are expressing serious concerns for the loss of a large number of civilian casualties because ISIS has entrenched itself in civilian areas.
Here, Bassam al-Ahmad of the VDC says that the military strikes against ISIS and al-Qaida targets in Syria must uphold international obligations to refrain from targeting civilians, and that the international community must not turn a blind eye to the potential for increased violence against civilians as the world’s attention is on the U.S. strikes.
Syria Deeply:What’s the ground view of yesterday’s strike? Why are civilians at such a risk of becoming casualties?
al-Ahmad:Yesterday, in Kafrderian, Jabhat al-Nusra’s command center was targeted. There were civilians around this base, women and children, who died as a result.
ISIS has taken over several bases in Raqqa, Aleppo and Deir Ezzor where civilians are living. For example, in Raqqa, ISIS has military bases in villages outside Raqqa where it would be easy to target them without risking civilian casualties. However, ISIS has also taken over several bases in Raqqa, Aleppo and Deir Ezzor where civilians are living, and there is huge potential for civilian casualties.
ISIS also has a number of command centers that have been converted to detention centers, where ISIS is keeping thousands of inmates, including journalists, activists and people who have been kidnapped.
ISIS controls installations containing dangerous materials, including the Conoco gas plant, in the Khasham village near Deir Ezzor. If this gas stock were to be hit, it could potentially cause huge destruction as an environmental hazard of incalculable proportions.
Syria Deeply:What is the reaction from civilians on the ground?
al-Ahmad:I talked with many civilians yesterday. Most of them are very scared about the possibility of death. They have no idea when the strikes will hit and no way to prepare for them. There are also very serious fears about the number of civilian casualties increasing over time, especially considering the potential length of the airstrike campaign.
These strikes have the potential to lead to more displacement in areas like Raqqa. Hundreds of thousands of people are already displaced in Raqqa and Aleppo, and we think this trend will continue.
We fear that ISIS will retaliate and commit more violence against civilians during these strikes, especially if the strikes are not able to completely wipe out ISIS. With the international community’s attention on U.S. airstrikes on ISIS, the government of President Bashar al-Assad will use the situation to its advantage to take over more areas in Syria and target more civilians.