Airstrikes hit Idlib town hosting displaced East Ghoutans: ‘The bombs have followed us’

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The aftermath of an airstrike at a market in Ariha on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Ariha Today.

AMMAN: Pro-government airstrikes reportedly killed five civilians on Tuesday near an Idlib town hosting hundreds of recently displaced Syrians from East Ghouta, as new arrivals say they are facing the same dangers they left their homes to escape.

“It’s both sad and funny,” Omar Noor, an East Ghouta evacuee who settled in the Idlib town of Ariha last week told Syria Direct on Tuesday. “We left airstrikes and siege to come live under new bombardment.”

A single airstrike hit a market in Ariha at approximately 9am on Tuesday morning, killing two civilians, the Idlib Civil Defense told Syria Direct. Shortly afterwards, additional airstrikes targeted the village of al-Asdiya, 6km to the northwest, killing a man and two children.

Ariha, a small town located approximately 15km south of Idlib’s provincial capital, and nearby villages are hosting hundreds of East Ghoutans who left their homes in late March and traveled northwards in a series of evacuation deals clearing much of Damascus’ eastern suburbs of rebel fighters.

Approximately 50,000 former East Ghouta residents are currently in Idlib province, Akram Touma, the president of the Syrian Interim Government’s Outer Damascus Provincial Council told Syria Direct on Tuesday.

First responders clear rubble after an airstrike in the Idlib village of al-Asdiya on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of the Idlib Civil Defense.

A previous airstrike in Ariha killed Hassan Muhi a-Deen, an East Ghouta evacuee from Zamalka, this past Saturday just days after he arrived in Idlib province, local activists reported at the time. Muhi a-Deen is so far the only East Ghouta evacuee reported to have been killed by pro-government bombardment in Idlib province.

“We’ve had no respite,” evacuee Omar Noor told Syria Direct from Ariha via WhatsApp. “It looks like the bombs have followed us.” Noor, along with his wife and young daughter, left East Ghouta’s central sector last Tuesday.

Months of bombardment and a pro-government ground offensive in the East Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, for years a major opposition stronghold, have left an estimated 1,700 civilians dead and all but eliminated the rebel presence east of the capital.

Beginning in mid-March, back-to-back surrender and evacuation deals cleared East Ghouta’s central sector and southern reaches of rebel fighters, activists and civilians unwilling to return to Syrian government control.

Only Douma city, once the rebel enclave’s de facto capital, remains as closed-door negotiations continue between opposition and government representatives.

“We left East Ghouta against our will,” Anas al-Khouli, a 25-year-old East Ghouta evacuee staying in Ariha told Syria Direct. “Now, we are enduring the airstrikes alongside the people of the north.”

Al-Khouli, who is living with his wife and young daughter in central Ariha, says he was near the site of Tuesday’s market airstrike when it occurred.

“It was a little scary,” al-Khouli told Syria Direct, “but we’re used to being bombed.”