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INVESTIGATIONS

Airstrike on Al Hal Market in Maaret Al Numan

May 28, 2021

Investigation reveals an airstrike hit Al Hal Market in Maaret Al Numan in late 2019

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Incident Summary

  • Place of Incident: Idlib: Maaret Al Numan
  • Location Hit: Al Hal Market (or Al Khudar Market)
  • Date: 2 December 2019
  • Time: Between 10:30 - 10:40, according to team members of the Civil Defense and doctors interviewed by the investigations team as well as open source information and flight observation data.
  • Deaths: 9 killed, including 2 women, whose identities were confirmed by Syrian Archive’s investigations team and corroborated by hospital staff and open sources.
  • Wounded: 19 people were wounded in the strike, including women and children, according to a hospital list of those injured given to the investigations team.
  • Type of incident: Airstrike
  • Munitions Used: Unknown
  • Potentially Responsible: Flight observation data, witness testimony, and open source information point towards the Syrian government as potentially responsible for the incident.

Introduction

Nour Salamah (11 years old) and her younger brother Salem (3 years old) are shown in a video posted online and viewed by millions. They are sitting in a demolished house near Maaret Al Numan’s Al Hal Market covered in blood and crying. In the video, first responders approach the two kids as Nour asks about her father’s safety. This video was taken shortly after the market was hit on Monday, December 2, 2019 by an airstrike that killed 9, injured 19, and severely damaged the market, its shops, and the city’s infrastructure.

Methodology

Syrian Archive conducted an investigation into the incident, based on three parts:

  1. A local investigations team collected testimonies from eyewitnesses and persons who witnessed the immediate aftermath of the airstrike;
  2. Syrian Archive researchers secured, analysed, and verified 72 videos and images uploaded to social media networks claiming to show the incident; and subsequently
  3. Analysed satellite imagery of the location from before and after the strike as well as flight observation data from the day of the airstrike.

The combined analysis of these sources culminated in the present investigation report. Complementing each other, they provide information regarding the strike’s date and time, location, casualties, and extent of damage. Examining all information available on the strike, the investigations team developed an understanding of the incident and the parties potentially responsible.

For more details on Syrian Archive’s methodology, please visit our site.

The Market Before the Incident:

image5 Location of Maaret Al Numan on Google Maps.

Al Hal or Al Khudar Market in Maaret Al Numan is one of the most active markets in the Idlib countryside. The city itself, at the beginning of the conflict, had a population of around 150,000 people with many locals from the surrounding villages visiting the city regularly.

The city of Maaret Al Numan itself occupies a strategic location in relation to the conflict - it sits directly upon the M5 or the Damascus-Aleppo Highway, 31 km south of Idlib. Because of this, starting in 2011, the city has been frequently hit by airstrikes. The ensuing destruction of entire areas of the city forcibly displaced many of those living in or near the city in 2013. Although a large part of its residents began returning to Maaret Al Numan in 2015 when airstrikes ceased, the city and surrounding areas have witnessed another large exodus, over the last months of 2019, as a result of increased air raids on the city’s medical centers, schools, and markets. With many civilians leaving the city, around 70,000 remain in Maaret Al Numan facing the risk of airstrikes and death.

image6

Satellite imagery on Google Earth of Al Hal Market’s location in Maaret Al Numan.

Centrally located within Maaret Al Numan, Al Hal Market includes around 31 commercial stores where 175 people work, according to a shop owner interviewed by the Syrian Archive’s investigations team. The market sells fruits and vegetables to the residents of the town and those from surrounding villages. According to the shop owner, the market is located in a densely populated area and is at its busiest during the early morning hours; visitor numbers begin to decline around 10:00 AM. After 10:00, some workers and residents remain to purchase their groceries in the market. This is when Al Hal Market was hit.

What Happened (and When)?

image10

A still from a video taken and uploaded by the Syrian Civil Defense of the market directly after the incident.

Catalogued by Syrian Archive, posts on social media mentioning a strike on Al Hal market first appeared at around 11:00, a few minutes after the incident. Local social media accounts, such as Al Maaret Now Network, Macro Media Center, and Ibrahim Khalil Al Badan, posted information of a strike on the market with early estimates of the number of individuals killed ranging from 3 to 10. Video reports from media activists Maher Abu Shadi and Hadi Al Abdullah, taken an hour after the strike, further confirm its severity, showing the immediate aftermath and arrival of first responders. Videos from the Syrian Civil Defense, posted hours after the strike at around 16:00, show first responders rescuing injured civilians and transporting them to nearby hospitals.

image1

An image from the Macro Media Center of the market after the strike.

Additionally, videos and reports on the airstrike posted days later by the Syrian Media Forum, the Syrian Civil Defense, Al Jazeera, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, and the Violations Documentation Center in Syria show the damage to the market and allege Syrian warplanes as responsible for the airstrike on Al Hal Market. Syrian Archive examined all these materials, verifying the time and location of the strike, and the materials allegedly showing its aftermath.

Geolocation

Syrian Archive used landmarks shown in the various videos gathered online claiming to show the incident to confirm the strike occurred at Al Hal Market. Buildings in and around the market were compared with satellite imagery to verify the location of the strike and videos showing the aftermath. Using Geolocation techniques, Syrian Archive found that the incident shown in the videos did indeed occur at Al Hal Market in central Maaret Al Numan.

image13

A geolocation by the investigations team of the market comparing stills from footage taken by the investigations team (on the left) and uploaded by the Macro Media Center (on the right) with satellite imagery from Google Earth.

Chronolocation

Syrian Archive used witness statements, posts from social media, and flight observation data to confirm and corroborate the alleged time of the incident. A statement from the commander of the Civil Defense team in Maaret Al Numan, Abdel Khaleq Abdel Moneim Thikra, interviewed by the investigations team, places the strike as occurring at around 10:36. In line with this, social media posts outlined above alerting of an airstrike on the town were published after 10:50 AM. Flight observation data, outlined later in this report, shows planes circling above Maaret Al Numan around the time of the strike further corroborating the timing of the incident. Through these sources, Syrian Archive ascertains that the strike occurred between 10:30 - 10:40 AM on December 2, 2019.

image11

An image published by SNHR showing the destruction to the market.

Nour Salamah’s Story:

image3 A still from a video with Nour Salamah where she recounts the moments before and after the strike.

The story of Nour Salamah, a young girl found crying with her younger brother covered in blood and hiding after the blast, not only corroborates the details of the strike - including its location and severity - but also underlines the strike’s intensity. Nour retold the story of the strike in an interview posted on Facebook on December 5, three days after the incident. In the interview, Nour says that her grandmother’s sister, her brother, and father, originally from the neighboring village of Deir Al Sharqi, went to Al Watani Hospital in Maaret Al Numan to pick up her grandmother who just had surgery. She said that as they were coming back from the hospital they stopped by the market so her father could quickly grab some necessities.

Her grandmother and her grandmother’s sister were sitting inside the car, while she and her brother were sitting in the open trunk of the pick up truck. In the interview, she says that she “saw a missile” that “exploded in the sky.” As the missile hit the ground, she ran from the car and caught up to her brother where they hid in a demolished house and were later found by first responders. Nour describes seeing people falling as she ran into the house. She explains that she suffered injuries from the blast, including shrapnel in both eyes as well as her face and legs. Her brother, she notes, had to undergo surgery to remove shrapnel from one of his eyes with additional shrapnel still stuck in his other eye.

Images by Enab Baladi and posted by the journalist Iyad Abu Al Joud showing the white pick up truck Nour and her family were sitting in.

Syrian Archive’s team worked to corroborate and further investigate Nour Salamah’s story. We were able to find and confirm, through visual analysis and comparison, that the two dead women sitting in the white pickup truck as seen in the videos featured above, were Nour’s grandmother Mary and her grandmother’s sister Jamila Al Youssef. The investigations team further confirmed through hospital records that Nour’s father, Ahmed Bakour Al Salamah, was killed by the strike. At the site of the airstrike, the investigations team identified the crater and determined the location of the missile’s impact, noting that it fell near the parked car. The crater from the missile strike was about one meter wide and about 20 centimeters deep on the paved street.

image4

The National Hospital and Al Hal market shown on satellite imagery from Google Earth. The market is around 1.9 km away from the hospital.

The investigations team further confirmed through interviews with hospital staff that Maryam Al Youssef, Nour’s grandmother, did undergo an operation one day before the strike and was released from the hospital about fifteen minutes before the missile hit the market. Rima Sheikh Deeb, a nurse in the ambulance department of the Al Watani (or National) Hospital in Maaret Al Numan, confirmed that Maryam Al Youssef underwent surgery only to reenter the hospital at around 10:45 having passed away on arrival. Deeb noted that this had a significant impact on the hospital staff. Al Youssef’s discharge and her reentry into the hospital was also confirmed by Abdul Moein Sourani, the head of nursing at the hospital, in an interview with the investigations team. Alongside revealing the devastation of these airstrikes, Nour Salamah’s story corroborates claims from witnesses interviewed by Syrian Archive and social media posts that it resulted in civilian casualties.

Deaths and Wounded from the Strike:

In the hours after the incident, Al Hamam Abdul Karim, Amer Abazaid, and Rahil Hamamoud posted graphic images of those killed and injured by the blast. The Syrian Civil Defense also published photos of the rescue efforts and posts that nine people were killed and 13 wounded from the strike. This was confirmed in a later interview with the commander of the Civil Defense team in Maaret Al Numan. He said that nine civilians were killed and 19 others were taken to medical centers in the area for treatment. corroborating estimates made online and by the National Hospital in Maaret Al Numan.

The investigations team obtained the hospital’s list of 9 killed and 19 wounded by the strike. This information was verified and corroborated through interviews with witnesses and hospital staff as well as open source information. Eleven names on the hospital lists , as outlined below, could not be corroborated through posts on social media.

The hospital list of the 9 killed names:

  1. Jihad Baraq - 20 years old - Maaret Al Numan
  2. Jamila Al Youssef - 35 years old - Deir Al Sharqi (not mentioned in open sources)
  3. Hasan Al Rashid - 25 years old - Maaret Al Numan
  4. Abdel Hamid Sbeia - 19 years old - Maaret Al Numan
  5. Mariam Al Youssef - 4 years old - Deir Al Sharqi
  6. Ahmed Al Salamah - 50 years old - Deir Al Sharqi
  7. Abdel Khaliq Hamidi - 35 years old - Maaret Al Numan
  8. Abdo Al Adel - 30 years old - Maaret Al Numan
  9. Nasser Darfil - 28 years old - Maaret Al Numan

The hospital list of the 19 injured include 19 names:

  1. Hassan Al-Dabaan - 25 years old - Sorman - facial injury
  2. Hudhaifa Al-Hamoud - 23 years old - Al Ghadfah - chest and stomach injury
  3. Bashar Bazal - 30 years old - Darkush - groin injury
  4. Khansaa Al Ali - 20 years old - Al Sorman - left forearm injury
  5. Zahra Al Ali - 25 years old - Sorman - generalized shrapnel in the body and chest
  6. Muhammad Tawish - 20 years old - Maaret Al Numan - severed fingers
  7. Salem Al Salamah - 3 years old - Deir Al Sharqi - eye injury
  8. Nour Ahmad Salamah - 11 years old - Deir al-Sharqi - face injuries
  9. Talal Al-Adel - 25 years old - shrapnel in the chest and the hand
  10. Abd Al Salam Al Darfeel - 40 years old - Maaret Al Numan - injured by multiple shrapnel
  11. Muhammad Haitham Al Shallah - 25 years old - Maaret Al Numan - chest injury
  12. Majd Al Barq - 30 years old - Maaret Al Numan - jaw injury
  13. Bahaa Al-Shallah - 22 years old - back and stomach injury
  14. Mahmoud Naddaf - 27 years old - injured with legs
  15. Mahmoud Al Barq - 20 years old - Maaret Al Numan- injuries on the hand, face and head
  16. Ahmad Al Nono - 20 years old - Maaret Al Numan - chest injury
  17. Muhammad Fadl Al Shallah - 50 years old - Maaret Al Numan - knee injury
  18. Amer Al-Darfeel - 20 years old - Maaret Al Numan
  19. Unknown - 40 years old - Maaret Al Numan - shrapnel in the limbs and abdomen

In an interview with the investigations team, Abdel Moein Sourani, the head of the nursing department at the National Hospital, confirmed the number (but not individual identities) of those killed and wounded as well as their arrival at the hospital starting at around 10:45. According to Sourani, and a nurse at the hospital named Rima, the injuries of those in the strike varied from requiring immediate operation to a quick treatment directly in the ambulance. The number of injuries and those killed, shown in hospital records given to the investigations team, match the severe and extensive damage done to the market and its surrounding buildings.

Conclusion: Based on the sources outlined above, Syrian Archive concludes that Al Hal Market in Maaret Al Numan in the Idlib countryside was hit by an airstrike between 10:30 and 10:40 on December 2, 2019. The strike killed 9 civilians, including two women, and injured 19 others according to and confirmed by open sources, the Syrian Civil Defense, and records from the National Hospital in Maaret Al Numan.

Physical Damage

image2

Aerial imagery of the market after the strike published by Macro Media Center.

Images and a video uploaded by the Macro Media Center show the significant damage to the market as a result of the airstrike. Following first responders rescuing those injured and recovering the bodies of those dead, the video features debris from the market’s buildings as well as fruits and vegetables scattered on the ground. Cars parked in and around the market are damaged, destroyed, or burnt. Remnants of sunshades, made from sheet metal, are crumpled and destroyed on the ground with splatters of blood from victims of the blasts.

Satellite imagery from Digital Globe of the market before and after the incident. Damage to the market’s structure and external walls further confirms the extent of damage as well as the date of the strike.

A live-streamed video published by Syria TV also shows large stones and pieces of sheet metal from the surrounding buildings covering the ground. Additionally, the video shows the white Honda pick up truck that Nour Al Salamah sat in with her family before the strike. The car suffered extensive damage with a broken and removed windshield as well as shrapnel holes around the vehicle. The car is located next to a number of destroyed shops.

image12

A still from a video uploaded by Orient TV of the market and its surrounding areas after the strike. This image shows the white pick up truck where Nour Salamah sat with her family when the missile hit the market.

Additional media documentation from Arabi Television and activist Iyad Abu Al Joud show the damage done to the structure of the market itself as well as the surrounding homes and cars. Videos posted by Orient TV and Baladi Media Network show specifically the destruction of the products sold at the market including fruits and vegetables needed by the city’s residents.

image7 A still from footage taken by the investigations team of the market two days after the incident. First responder teams and city residents worked directly after the strike to remove rubble and restore the market.

Syrian Archive’s investigations team also took photos and videos of the market two days after the incident, further confirming the extensive damage to the shops and the market’s external structures. The images and footage were taken after the rubble from the strike was removed.

Conclusion: Through the sources outlined above, Syrian Archive can confirm the market, a center for civilian commerce in Maaret Al Numan, was severely damaged from the airstrike on 2 December 2019.

Flight Data Analysis and Parties Potentially Responsible:

To further verify the incident, Syrian Archive cross-referenced information from open sources and pictures and videos taken by the investigations team two days after the attack with flight observation data from a spotter organization, which documents sightings of warplanes by partner observers in cities throughout Syria. These observers collect data about the aircrafts such as the type of plane and the direction the plane is flying. Although there may be misidentifications of aircraft in the flight data, additional information such as witness statements and social media posts can corroborate the identified aircraft and its course. Data for flights occurring briefly before, during, and after the time of the incident around 10:35 near Maaret Al Numan was analyzed.

Beginning in Hama, a MiG-23 (Flogger) was spotted taking off northeast from Hama Military Base at 10:24. Two minutes later, a Su-22 (Fitter) was observed departing north from Shayrat Airbase in Homs at 10:26. As these planes were headed north, a Su-22 (Fitter) was spotted circling over Jarjanaz, a town 10 km west of Maaret Al Numan, at 10:21 and 10:24. A Su-22 (Fitter) was then seen flying west at 10:23 over Jarjanaz. Around the estimated time of the incident at 10:37, an MiG-23 (Flogger) and Su-22 (Fitter) were spotted circling over Maaret Al Numan. The common practice of circling by warzone aircrafts featured in this data set generally indicates a target acquisition and/or preparation for an imminent strike. The circling by Su-22 and Mig-23 aircraft, both commonly used by the Syrian Air Force, over and near Maaret Al Numan corroborates the estimated time of the incident as reported by the Syrian Civil Defense, open source media, and witnesses interviewed by the investigations team.

Although, this data further confirms the time the incident occurred, there is no information available indicating that one of the observed aircraft was directly involved in the strike detailed above. Nevertheless, the presence of Su-22 and MiG-23 warplanes above Maaret Al Numan and neighboring towns at or around the time of the strike further confirms the purported times the missile hit Al Hal Market.

Moreover, in an interview with the investigations team, Abu Bahr, the director of an another observatory near Maaret Al Numan, stated that a Sukhoi 22 warplane was spotted by his partners taking off from the airport of Al Tayfour in Homs at 10:26, the day of the incident. He claimed the plane moved north until it reached the eastern countryside of Maaret Al Numan carrying out raids on the villages of Jirjnaz and Al Musharafa along the way. Shortly thereafter, according to Abu Bahr, the plane continued north towards Saraqib and then Maaret Al Numan, which it hit with one missile at 10:36. Although this data contradicts the path proposed by Syrian Archive’s analysis, it confirms observations of a Su-22 above Maaret Al Numan close to the alleged time of the strike.

Conclusion: The presence of Su-22 and MiG-23 warplanes above Maaret Al Numan and neighboring towns at the time of the strike as established earlier in this report, indicates that these planes may have been involved in carrying out the strike. However, to date, no additional information, other than claims on social media and by witnesses, uncovered by Syrian Archive confirms this. As such, it is currently not possible to definitively find the Syrian government to be responsible.

Conclusion:

According to the information outlined above, the Al Hal market in Maaret Al Numan was hit on December 2, 2019 between 10:30 and 10:40 by an airstrike. The strike killed 9 and injured at least 19 people. Although flight observation data and open sources point towards the Syrian government as responsible for the incident, Syrian Archive is unable to definitively identify a party responsible.

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