First responders search for survivors after massive bombing strikes Idlib city

AMMAN: Civil defense personnel completed a 16-hour operation to rescue civilians trapped under the remains of an apartment building in rebel-held Idlib city on Tuesday, one day after a massive explosion that killed dozens of residents and breached months of relative calm in the provincial capital.

By the time rescue operations ended on Tuesday afternoon, the Syrian Civil Defense counted 28 dead, Ahmad Sheikho, a spokesman for the organization’s Idlib branch, told Syria Direct via voice messages sent over WhatsApp. Another 150 people in Idlib city’s residential Wadi a-Naseem district were injured, he said.

“The Idlib Civil Defense recorded the source of the bombing as unknown,” he added, “but it was extremely violent, and the destruction is massive.”

On Monday evening, resident Abu Malham a-Sheikh Ali was at his home in Wadi a-Naseem when the bombing took place “meters away,” he told Syria Direct via WhatsApp on Tuesday.

Civil Defense forces search for survivors in Idlib city on Monday night. Photo courtesy of Idlib Civil Defense.

“An incredibly bright light appeared suddenly and illuminated all of Idlib,” said a-Sheikh Ali, a former Syrian army officer who was displaced from Homs to Idlib last year. “Within seconds there was an explosion and the city shook dreadfully.”

“An entire building was flattened to the ground,” he said, describing a “bloody, frightening scene.”

Monday’s explosion was the deadliest bombing in Idlib city so far this year. In early January, a car bomb killed 25 people near the headquarters of an opposition faction in the city. Russian and Syrian government airstrikes, which frequently batter towns and cities in Idlib’s rebel-held countryside, have been a relatively rare occurrence in the provincial capital in recent months.

The hardline rebel alliance Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham (HTS) controls Idlib city, as well as large swathes of the opposition-held province that is home to nearly one million internally displaced Syrians.

HTS-run Ebaa News Agency said via Telegram on Tuesday that the previous day’s explosion was “believed to be caused by Russian ballistic missiles.”

Russian state-owned news outlet Sputnik reported the blast in Idlib city but stated its cause remains unknown.

Idlib is one of four “de-escalation” zones across Syria outlined in a Russian- and Iranian-brokered deal announced in May 2017. HTS is not included in the deal.