At least two civilians have been killed when Russian air raids struck an abandoned water pumping station in rebel-held northwest Syria, the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, says as attacks by Damascus ally Moscow rise.
Two attacks took place late on Tuesday in Arri, west of the provincial capital Idlib, and hit the facility, where displaced Syrians had been living. An elderly man, Ahmad al-Khaled, and his 16-year-old grandson Taher were killed.
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According to Munir al-Mustafa, deputy director of the White Helmets emergency response volunteers, five other civilians were wounded in the Russian raid, including two children and a woman.
“We were sleeping and woke up to the sound of explosions,” Mohammed al-Khaled, the elderly man’s son, told Al Jazeera. “We quickly got the women and children out, but after five minutes, the second Russian attack killed my father and nephew.”
“There are no armed fighters or weapons in the area,” he said. “This is a water pumping station that is out of service. We’re all civilians here.”
“The regime forces and Russia have escalated their attacks during the past hours, threatening the lives of civilians in northwestern Syria,” al-Mustafa said in a statement.
“These attacks are a continuation of their policy of killing civilians, without any deterrence or accountability for these crimes for 12 years.”
Al-Mustafa said the White Helmets have responded to more than 454 attacks by Russia and the Syrian regime since the beginning of the year.
“Fifty-one people, including eight children and five women, were killed in these attacks, and 208 people were injured,” he said.
Yousef Ramadan, who lives in the al-Tih camp for displaced people near Maarrat Misrin, also in Idlib province, said he thought the raids were directed at the camp.
“The attack was about 500 metres [550 yards] away from us,” the 57-year-old said. “My family and I were in our tent when we heard the missiles hit.”
They ran outside and took shelter under an olive tree.
“It was like the sound of death,” Ramadan said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Russian air attacks had targeted a rebel base north of Idlib city, killing three members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the hardline armed group that controls swathes of Idlib province.
Seven other fighters and five civilians were wounded in that attack, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of sources inside Syria.
HTS regularly carries out attacks on soldiers and pro-government forces.
On Monday, Russian air raids on the outskirts of Idlib city killed 13 HTS fighters and wounded several.
Moscow’s intervention in Syria’s war beginning in 2015 helped Damascus claw back much of the territory it had lost to rebel forces early in the 12-year civil war.
The rebel-held Idlib region is home to about three million people, about half of them displaced from other parts of the country.
Syria’s war broke out in 2011 after President Bashar al-Assad’s repression of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations escalated into a deadly conflict that pulled in foreign powers.
The war has killed more than half a million people and forced about half of Syria’s pre-war population from their homes.
Since 2020, a ceasefire brokered by Russia and rebel-backer Turkey has largely held in Syria’s northwest despite periodic clashes. Syrian and Russian air strikes have continued, though.
Additional reporting by Ali Haj Suleiman in northwest Syria.