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Albin Szakola & Ullin Hope

Russia pounds northern
Homs countryside

Airstrikes killed at least 16 civilians, while Muslim communal prayers were cancelled amid the heavy bombardment.

Homs strike. (YouTube/Shaam News Network)

BEIRUT – Russia has conducted heavy airstrikes across rebel-held territory between Homs and Hama, killing a number of civilians and prompting the cancellation of communal Friday prayers in the area's mosques.

 

At least 16 people were killed in the withering bombardment on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, specifying that the airstrikes had targeted Ghantu, Al-Dar al-Kabirah, Talbisah and Teir Maaleh.

 

An airstrike targets the Homs village of Al-Dar al-Kabirah. (YouTube/Homs Media Center)

 

The monitoring NGO said that 14 civilians were killed in Ghantu and two others in the village of Al-Dar al-Kabirah by "what is believed to have been Russian warplanes."

 

"The death toll is likely to rise because of the number of wounded people in critical condition."

 

Al-Dar al-Kabirah residents recover the body of one of the victims of Friday's bombing. (YouTube/Homs Media Center)

 

The Syrian regime also conducted its own airstrikes, with helicopters dropping barrel bombs on Teir Maaleh, according to the Observatory.

 

In an earlier report on the strikes, the SOHR said that the suspected Russian planes had carried out "no less than 16 raids on areas in the villages of Ghantu, Al-Dar al-Kabirah and Teir Maalah."

 

Al-Dar al-Kabirah following one of Friday's strikes. (YouTube/Homs Media Center)

 

The activist Homs Media Center reported similar numbers of airstrikes and casualties, but noted that while it had documented the names of 17 dead residents of Ghantu and Al-Dar al-Kabirah, there were still many missing people.  

"There is a large amount of human remains. We have not been able to determine [who it belongs to] and [there are many] missing persons," the activist group said.

 

Amid the heavy bombardment, two pro-opposition outlets—Radio al-Kul and SMART News—reported that the Higher Sharia Council in Homs had ordered the cancellation of Friday communal prayers at all mosques in the north of the province.

 

"Forty types of ammunition await you"

 

Leaflet

A picture of the leaflet dropped over the northern Homs countryside earlier in the week. (image via Enab Baladi)

 

Friday's airstrikes in northern Homs come after a series of ominous warnings from the regime to residents and rebels in the region.

 

The pro-opposition outlet Enab Baladi published a picture of a leaflet it said had been dropped on the rebel held areas three days earlier.

 

"Forty types of ammunition await you," the crudely designed leaflet—which bore a picture of a Russian Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet launching two missiles—threatened.

 

"They are capable of destroying targets [above] ground [and] underground… [in] bomb shelters and fortified areas." 

 

A week earlier, Syrian regime helicopters overflying the pocket of opposition-controlled territory delivered leaflets offering an amnesty to local fighters willing to hand over their weapons and force out foreign combatants.

 

Rebels were given until February 4 to accept the offer, or else "combat will resume, causing great losses that can be avoided," according to the leaflets.

 

"Choosing the path of peace and safe life is much better than the path of war and destruction," the leaflets added.

 

Local citizen journalists and the activist-run Homs Media Center, have reported intensified bombardment of rebel areas in the past two weeks, while videos have circulated social media showing strikes rocking the towns and villages north of Homs.

 

In early January, pro-regime forces seized a series villages east of the Hama-Homs M5 highway, threatening to impose a harsh siege on the northern part of the province.

 

Activists warned that these advances could cause a humanitarian disaster for the region and its 250,000 inhabitants.

 

To the north of Homs, rebels control an approximately 50-kilometer wide pocket of territory which at its narrowest tendril stretches down directly from Talbisa along the key M-5 highway to the outskirts of the provincial capital.

Regime forces have maintained a salient piercing into the rebel zone of control, which they have repeatedly attempted to roll back without any considerable success, even with the start of Russian airstrikes on September 30, 2015. ​

A video shows an airstrike on Homs' Ghantu. (YouTube/Shaam News Network)

There is a large amount of human remains. We have not been able to determine [who it belongs to] and [there are many] missing persons.