Syria military academy drone strikes:Syrians began burying dozens of victims and seven civilians, including a two-year-old child, after a massive drone strike on a military academy in the western city of Homs on Thursday killed the opposition-held Eid Lieb. Government forces stepped up artillery and missile strikes on Idlib following the Homs attack, the deadliest attack on government-held territory in years. 14 people were killed in an attack by government forces in Idlib on Thursday, and three more people were killed on Friday, the Syrian Civil Defense reports. The two-year-old child was killed in a Russian airstrike on a house in the village of Jaftarak Haji Hamoud, north of Jisr al-Shugur, according to civil defense officials, doctors and local residents.
On Friday night, Syrian government artillery hit a residential area in the city of Idlib, killing four people, including a married couple. Authorities in opposition-held areas of Idlib and Aleppo canceled Friday prayers amid fears of possible attacks on mosques.
Mourners took to the streets of Homs on Friday as explosions rang out in rebel-held territory, and coffins draped in Syrian flags were placed outside Homs’ military hospital as military bands played somber music and soldiers saluted. On Thursday, several drones struck a graduation ceremony in the academy’s courtyard as families gathered with new officers.
Syria’s health ministry said at least 89 people were killed, including 31 women and five children. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria, estimates the death toll at more than 120 people. Three days of national mourning have been announced in Syria. There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, with the Syrian Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and foreigners blaming “terrorist” groups without providing specific details. They promised to respond with “full force”. Thursday’s attack was the unprecedented use of drones against government forces in a war that began with protests against President Bashar Assad in 2011 and escalated into a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. Millions of people have been displaced.
Al Jazeera‘s Zena Coder, who has reported extensively on Syria, said the attack was a “serious breach of security and a blow to the Syrian regime”. “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been the target of such operations for many years in the heart of government-held areas,” she said.
She added: “The Syrian regime appears to be blaming the opposition because shortly after the attack, their planes began targeting residential areas in the opposition-held enclave in the north-west of the country.” Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said he was “deeply concerned” by drone strikes in Homs and “reports of retaliatory fire” in northwest Syria.
Meanwhile, Lebanese broadcaster Al-Manar reported on Friday that Russian President and ally of the Syrian government, Vladimir Putin, expressed his condolences to Assad.