Dozens homeless after tents, makeshift homes destroyed in airstrikes on Idlib camp for displaced

AMMAN: More than 50 displaced Syrians are living out in the open amidst rubble on Thursday after targeted airstrikes destroyed most of their camp in rural central Idlib province, sources on the ground told Syria Direct.

“The first airstrike was at around 2pm, and struck 100 meters from al-Maaratah camp,” the site’s director Dhiaa Bkour told Syria Direct on Thursday, the day after the bombings. An hour later, Bkour said, a second airstrike hit the mosque “in the middle of the camp, leading to total destruction.”

As a result of the airstrikes, 130 of the settlement’s roughly 2,000 residents are now “homeless” after alleged Su-22 bombers belonging to the Syrian Air Force unleashed airstrikes in the countryside east of Maarat a-Numan, Bkour said.

 The aftermath of the airstrikes Wednesday afternoon. Photo courtesy of SMART News.

Among the wreckage is the camp’s school, which had served nearly 400 children from the camp and nearby villages. “The children now have no access to education, as this was the only school in the area,” Bkour added.

Most of the camp’s residents are displaced Syrians from the Hama plains, 60km to the southwest. The encampment consists of 175 one-room cement structures with either tin or clay roofs and 100 tents. On average, at least 20 people from two different families live in the cement homes, said the camp director.   

A displaced person himself, Bkour was elected director of the camp upon its establishment four years ago. At the time, residents of the surrounding towns and villages fled battles in the area and began building the cluster of tents and makeshift cinderblock homes now known as al-Maaratah. Bkour acts as a campwide spokesperson, appealing to humanitarian organizations for sorely needed aid for the camp’s roughly 2,000 residents.

But aid had yet to arrive as of Thursday afternoon, after he had “communicated with a number of humanitarian organizations to provide shelters” for those left homeless by Wednesday’s bombing.

 After the airstrikes on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Muath a-Shami.

Some residents whose homes or tents were crushed in Wednesday’s attack were able to find shelter by cramming in with extended family members on the edges of the camp, which remain untouched by the bombing.

At least 50 people, however, are now forced to sleep out in the open fields, with no shelter whatsoever.

Among them is 45-year-old Fateem al-Hameid, whose stepdaughter was one of two people killed in Wednesday’s attack. She has lived in al-Maaratah camp since two years ago, when battles between regime and rebel forces in her hometown in neighboring Hama province forced her to flee “to protect my family from the bombs.”

On Wednesday, her stepdaughter, 28, went outside to see what was happening after the first bomb fell, al-Hameid said. “When the second bomb fell, she was hit and died 15 minutes later,” she added.

As of Thursday, al-Hameid, her husband and their seven young children are now “living out in the open” after the bombing attack flattened their makeshift home in the center of camp, she told Syria Direct. “We have no house—not even a tent.”

There is little al-Hameid and her family can do now, she says, but “wait for someone to come and help us,” she said.

 Civil Defense volunteers at al-Maaratah after the airstrikes. Photo courtesy of Civil Defense-Idlib.

Abu Mohammad, 35, lost the tent he shared with wife and four children in Wednesday’s attack. It is the second time in a year the family has been homeless, after a bomb destroyed their house in rural Hama province last year.

As of Thursday, the manual laborer and his family are staying in a relative’s home on the camp’s outskirts. “We are 15 people all living together in just one room,” he told Syria Direct on Thursday.

Camp officials worked on Thursday to remove debris left behind by the attack despite a “lack of equipment” belonging to local Civil Defense first response teams, said one Civil Defense first responder, Maarouf Abu Ghfar.

In one video posted by pro-opposition outlet SMART News, dead cows and donkeys lie in the rubble as residents sort through demolished homes for their belongings.

Wednesday’s attack comes amid a general escalation of Syrian regime and allied Russian airstrikes over southern Idlib and northern Hama provinces. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are responding to an opposition offensive launched last month in neighboring Hama province to “reach the heart of Hama city” and take control of the nearby military airport, a Free Syrian Army spokesman told Syria Direct at the time. It is their fourth such offensive in four years.

Syrian state media did not report Wednesday’s attack on al-Maaratah camp.

For Abu Mohammad, the father whose tent was destroyed in the airstrike, he says finding safety amid the escalation is now even more urgent than finding food and water. “As the land keeps shrinking around us, our weariness expands,” he said.

“We just want to be safe from the bombings, the destruction and the homelessness.”

Alaa Nassar

Alaa was forced to flee Damascus with her family because of the pressure from the Syrian regime in 2013. She was a student of Arabic Language & Literature at the University of Damascus. She came to Syria Direct because she hopes to find a new direction in her life and to show the world what is happening in her country.

Alaa Rateb

Originally from Homs, Alaa Moved to Jordan in 2013 due to the security situation in Syria. She volunteered with Syrian refugees before joining Syria Direct.

Yazan Torko

Yazan studied interior design at Damascus university. In 2012, Yazan moved to Jordan where he volunteered with Syrian refugees. He is passionate about theater and previously developed YouTube videos for NGOs and small news outlets.

Madeline Edwards

Madeline Edwards graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2016. She was a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) recipient in Arabic in 2013. Her studies have brought her to Jordan, Palestine and Turkey.

Kristen Demilio

Kristen Gillespie Demilio has more than 10 years of experience reporting from the Middle East while based in Amman. She regularly contributed to news outlets including CBS News Radio, NPR, The Jerusalem Report and PBS and is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism as well as the Institut Français des Etudes Arabes in Damascus.