At least 16 civilians were killed when rockets struck an internally displaced persons camp, in the village of Qah in Syria’s Idlib province on Wednesday, according to the volunteer rescue group known as the White Helmets.
The camp was targeted by a missile loaded with cluster munitions, the White Helmets said. The attack also “led to a huge fire that burned many tents and caused huge material damage,” the group said.
“I saw a lot of dead bodies, mostly children… I saw tents burning…most people, thousands, ran away of the camp after the strike,” said one Syrian eyewitness who asked to remain anonymous due to safety reasons.
Idlib, near the Turkish-Syrian border, is the last opposition-held territory in Syria. It is home to more than 3 million Syrians including a dense population of internally displaced persons. The area is dominated by Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, the once Al Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al Nusra.
The Syrian government and its Russian backers routinely target southern Idlib. However, the latest rocket attacks near the Turkey-Syria border, where majority of displaced people live, could signal a significant escalation. The Syrian government in the past has said they are targeting terrorists in Idlib.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack.
“Two surface-to-surface rockets targeted Qah IDP camp and exploded about 25 meters from SAMS’ Qah Maternity Hospital,” said the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) in a statement. “The hospital has been damaged. Patients were evacuated from the hospital immediately and the children were evacuated to a safer area,” the SAMS statement said.
The medical facility had been recently moved to Qah after its previous location in the southern Idlib town of Maarat Al Nouman was bombed out of service in May 2019, SAMS said.
The Qah Maternity Hospital was a part of the UN-led humanitarian deconfliction mechanism to prevent strikes on healthcare facilities in Syria by providing GPS coordinates to countries active in Syrian airspace.
Another resident told CNN he was at home when he heard a loud explosion followed by a series of smaller blasts.
“I looked out and didn’t see anything it was very dark but later I started to see the camp because of the fire so I went to the camp, it was very chaotic, fathers and mothers looking for their children,” said Ahmad Razouk Abu al-Majed.
Earlier on Wednesday, a series of airstrikes in the town of Maarat Al Nouman killed six civilians, including three children, according to the White Helmets.
CNN’s Eyad Kourdi reported from Gaziantep and Gul Tuysuz from Istanbul.