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INVESTIGATIONS

Rocket shells hit Al Shifa Hospital in Afrin

July 26, 2021

An investigation into a rocket attack on Al-Shifa Hospital in the city of Afrin

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A joint investigation between Syrian Archive and Focus Aleppo

Initial Summary:

  • Place of Incident: Aleppo: Afrin
  • Locations Hit: Residential areas and Al Shifa Hospital
  • Date: 12 June 2021
  • Time: Two rocket-launched shell barrages occurred at around 18:00 and 19:00 local time, according to witness testimony, the Syrian Civil Defense, hospital staff, media activists, information from open sources, and video analysis.
  • Killed: 19 civilians, among them six women and three children. Fatalities were identified and verified by the investigations team.
  • Injured: Over 43 civilians, including women and children, as verified by open sources and witness testimony collected by the investigations team.
  • Type of Incident: Rocket propelled artillery shells
  • Munition used: 122mm BM-21 multi-barrel rocket launcher
  • Potentially Responsible: Syrian Archive is unable to determine responsibility for the attack. However, several sources indicate that the Syrian Democratic Forces (PKK-YPG) or Syrian government may be responsible for the incident.

Introduction

“Baba’s name is no longer on the door, Baba was killed, there’s no longer a door.” With these words, the daughter of Anwar Al Daher mourned the death of her father, who was killed in a shelling that hit Al Shifa Hospital in Afrin. Her father had been forcibly displaced from Kafr Aweed in the southern countryside of Idlib. Visiting Afrin for their work for the organization Shafak, Al Daher and his colleague Majid Kubaish were killed in the hospital while treating patients. A picture shows Ahmed Al Ibrahim, 35 years old, injured in a Civil Defense car. Ahmed, who has only worked as a volunteer in the Civil Defense for four months told the Syrian Archive team, “I was sad because I could not complete my mission after I was hit in the bombing, corpses and body parts were all over the place, there were many injured people everywhere.” Pictures and a video posted by the Syrian Civil Defense show Ahmed’s face covered in dust and blood, following the bombing of a residential community and later Al Shifa Hospital in Afrin with a total of 14 rocket shells. On June 12, 2021, two of these 14 shells hit Al Shifa Hospital and 12 hit residential houses and agricultural lands near the hospital. In total, this attacked killed about 19 people and wounded over 43 others. The attack severely damaged civilian homes and portions of the hospital, forcing the facility out of service.

Methodology

Syrian Archive’s investigation consisted of four components:

  1. Gathering testimonies from eyewitnesses, hospital staff, and media activists who witnessed the bombing;
  2. Preserving, analyzing, and verifying 71 photos and videos posted on social media allegedly documenting the incident;
  3. Contacting those who filmed and posted the open source media content as well as people appearing in the content to verify the media, collect information about the bombing, and obtain original copies of the video or image to determine the exact place and time of recording; and
  4. Analysing the type of weapon used, the angle of its fall and its range, as well as maps showing the surrounding areas of control, to identify possible locations for the rockets’ launch and the corresponding parties potentially responsible for the attack.

The combined analysis of these sources has culminated in the present investigation report. Considered together, the information gathered helps to establish the incident’s date, time, location, casualties, extent of damage, and potential perpetrators.

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

Al Shifa Hospital in Afrin

afrin7 A picture showing the gate to Al Shifa Hospital in Afrin.

Al Shifa Hospital, one of the largest medical facilities in Afrin, is located on Al Filat street on the western side of the city. The hospital is supported by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and is a participant in the UN-led Humanitarian Deconfliction Mechanism.

The hospital houses departments for gynecology and a variety of surgical operations. The facility also includes departments for ophthalmology, children’s health, baby incubators, primary healthcare, physical therapy, psychological treatment, and dental treatment. It includes a number of outpatient clinics, in addition to a pharmacy, laboratory, and radiology department. According to Dr. Hossam Hamdan, the hospital’s director, around 500 people per day visit the hospital, which provides all its services for free. Dr. Hamdan confirmed that the hospital has temporarily halted its services after the bombing. A report published by SAMS stated that the hospital, in addition to 350 deliveries and 250 surgeries, provides around 15,000 services a month.

According to a United Nations report, the hospital has been targeted three times since 2019. In the report, UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen states, “Such appalling attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including healthcare facilities and workers, are unacceptable and must cease.” Pedersen called on all parties to “fully comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians and civilian objects.”

Al Shifa Hospital, according to witness testimonies gathered by the investigations team, is located on a block that includes military and government institutions. The most important of which are the headquarters of the city police, the political security branch, and the court in Afrin. These central offices surround the hospital on three sides.

afrinmap A map from Google Earth showing the locations of the city police (in red), the political security branch (in green), and the court of Afrin (in blue) near Al Shifa Hospital (identified by a red pin drop).

What Happened (and When)

On June 12, 2021, rockets hit Afrin in two, distinct shellings timed approximately one hour apart. Al Shifa Hospital was hit in the second shelling.

First Shelling

Videos posted online show the first barrage of rockets on Afrin and rising smoke plumes from at least five areas at the end of the street nearest the political security branch in Afrin, around 200 meters away from the hospital. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, this initial shelling hit the Maaratah road and new highway in Afrin. Rockets also hit farm lands near the hospital. Sources online reported deaths and injuries from the bombings, which allegedly occurred between 18:03 - 18:10 local time on June 12.

Syrian Archive verified these videos, including where they were recorded, through witnesses that were in the area at the time of the bombing as well as through prominent landmarks shown in the video. Footage of the first attack on Afrin shows the sign of a restaurant named Tayyibah. Syrian Archive identified the location of this restaurant. The smoke shown in the video above was coming from the end of the street the restaurant is on. Syrian Archive found that the shells in the first attack hit nearby the restaurant and around 200 meters away from Al Shifa Hospital.

Moreover, the farm lands shown in photos and videos posted online match land along the Al Mazout Road, just west of the hospital. The hills shown in videos also match satellite imagery.

afrinsmoke Landmarks shown in a picture posted on Twitter of the bombing of farm land west of Afrin match satellite imagery. The location is near additional impact sites in residential areas located approximately 200 meters away from the hospital.

afrinfirst1 afrinfirst2 The area shells hit in the first barrage were less than 200 meters south-east of the hospital, towards the Tayyibah restaurant, and west towards the identified farm lands.

afrinshadows The shadows shown in an image of shells hitting the farm lands west of the hospital, correspond to the position of the sun in Afrin at around 18:00 on June 12, 2021, as estimated using the SunCalc tool. This further corroborates the timing of the first attack as mentioned in witness statements as well as reports by journalists and news agencies.

Second Shelling

An hour after the first shelling, additional rockets landed near Al Shifa Hospital with two rockets directly hitting sections of the hospital while staff were treating those wounded from the first attack.

A SAMS report on the attack stated that two rocket shells directly hit Al Shifa Hospital. The first hit the emergency room, while the second completely destroyed the delivery or gynecology room causing partial damage to the outpatient clinics.

The report set the time of the bombing at 19:15 on Saturday, June 12, 2021 and also confirmed that 11 hospital staff members, including a midwife in critical condition, were injured in the attack and a number of hospital staff and ambulance drivers were killed by the strikes. According to SAMS, rockets landed close to the hospital at 18:10 before it was directly hit an hour later.

A video circulated on social media shows scenes from immediately after the bombing of Al Shifa Hospital. In the video, an injured child is shown covered in blood. He attempts to stand up but falls back down. The video also shows medical staff covered in blood and those killed in the attack, including pieces of victims’ hands and heads.

Reports of the bombing on Al Shifa Hospital circulated on social media, news websites, and local news stations, with reports specifying the time of the attack as between 19:03 - 19:15 on June 12, 2021. A video posted by TRT Arabic includes footage from after the bombing of paramedics treating those wounded in the attack. A video from Sham News Agency includes interviews with a member of the Civil Defense and a hospital employee. With images in the background showing the destruction to the hospital, both witnesses spoke about the bombing, those killed and injured, as well as the damage to the medical facility.

In an interview with Orient TV, a witness specified 45 minutes between the two attacks on Afrin. The witness also added that the attack on Al Shifa Hospital damaged the facility’s emergency room, laboratory, gynecology department, outpatient clinics, and physical therapy department.

A video from the Civil Defense shows its members responding to the bombing and treating the wounded. Moreover, another video shows the damage to the emergency room and the transfer of those injured to other hospitals in Afrin.

Syrian Archive obtained an original copy of a video showing the injuries, death, and destruction immediately after Al Shifa Hospital was hit by rockets. The video’s metadata reveals that the video was taken at 16:02:41. The “create date” for a video, following standardized ISO/IEC media file format, is in UTC. Adjusted for the 3 hour difference between UTC and Syrian local time, the video was taken at 19:02:41, which is consistent with witness testimonies collected by Syrian Archive and reports online.

afrin5 A picture of the video’s metadata. The time the video was taken was at 16:02:41 UTC (19:02:41 Syrian local time).

Eyewitness Information

The above video was filmed by nurse Samir Aghwani, one of the staff members at Al Shifa who was present in the hospital the moment of the bombing. Aghwani told Syrian Archive:

“While working, I heard several consecutive rockets and explosions at 18:05 on Saturday, June 12. I immediately went to the emergency room after a call came about injuries in the Al Filat and Al Siyasiya streets. Ambulances began transporting those injured to Al Shifa Hospital, which was closest to the attack. While we applied first aid and a number of doctors entered the operating room to conduct surgeries, and about an hour after the first bombing, the hospital was targeted by two missiles. One of them fell in the emergency room where I was. The second fell in the middle of the hospital. I froze as horrific scenes passed in front of me before I regained my senses and opened my phone. I documented what had happened and then went to treat the injured. The place was filling with blood and corpses, and my colleagues, the Civil Defense teams, and I treated the wounded.”

The director of the hospital, Hossam Al Hamdan, confirmed to the Syrian Archive team the time and date of the bombing as well as the location where the shells landed. According to Al Hamdan, the shelling completely destroyed the emergency and gynecology departments as well as the operating rooms and clinics.

Naim Al Qasim, director of the Civil Defense Center in Afrin, said in an interview with the Syrian Archive team that, “At 18:05 Afrin was hit by rockets. The shelling concentrated around the vicinity of the Ibn Sina Hospital and Al Shifa Hospital, hitting civilian homes. The Civil Defense went to the location hit. The results of the shelling was one killed and four wounded. Other than a patient who was sent to Afrin Hospital, we transported the wounded to Al-Shifa Hospital. When the vehicles returned at around 19:00, the city was hit by a second attack. Among the locations hit in this attack was Al-Shifa Hospital. The Civil Defense paramedics present at the hospital were injured as well as some of the hospital staff in addition to civilians. They were treated and taken from the hospital. The initial outcome was around 15 dead and 43 injured, in addition to severe damage to the hospital and residential buildings as well to equipment belonging to the Civil Defense.”

Mohammed Al Youssef, an ambulance driver, told the Syrian Archive team, “We received an emergency response call at 18:05 of civilian casualties on Al Siyasiya street, near Al Filat, from rocket fire. We immediately went there and were the first teams to arrive. The moment we arrived there was a high number of those injured. So, we transported two cases to the hospital and came back to evacuate more of the injured. Here was when the paramedics and Civil Defense teams arrived. After we transported another injured individual, we headed towards Al Shifa Hospital, as it was close to the area shelled, to provide first aid to the injured and to try and rescue them. We stayed in the hospital, ready for any emergency that may happen. There was huge crowd in the hospital, including civilians, injured people, and their families.

“We stayed in the ambulance because there were patients with critical injuries that required transportation to Turkish territories. An hour after the first bombing, a second attack happened and here the horrific massacre occurred. The missiles directly hit the hospital, the number of people was very large. The nurse that was with my ambulance was inside the emergency room in the hospital and I was outside the hospital. The rising smoke, shrapnel, and the sounds I began to hear sounded as if it was Youm Al Qiyamah. Most of the people present were killed or injured. We managed the situation and tried to rescue the injured and pull them out of the rubble. What I saw was very difficult. I saw a child in a wheelchair who died in the bombing, women, children, and young people, and ambulance teams and nurses and doctors. While working as an ambulance driver for two years now, these were the toughest moments I ever experienced.”

Ahmed Al Ibrahim, a volunteer in the Civil Defense who was wounded by the shelling, told the Syrian Archive team that the first attack was around six o’clock in the evening. He accompanied two of his colleagues, Ismail Naasan, division commander, and Zaher Hamsho, driver, in transferring the injured to Al Shifa Hospital and then Afrin Central Hospital. When they returned to Al Shifa Hospital, rockets hit the facility and he and his colleagues were injured.

In audio messages to Syrian Archive, a journalist and a witness of the shelling said, “The first bombing was at 18:03 on farm lands and civilians homes.” According to this same journalist, among those killed was Ghaith Abbas, a fighter from the city of Homs. Additionally, the journalist claimed that two other fighters were wounded in the attack. The journalist added that at exactly 19:04, Al Shifa hospital was hit by rockets and that a number of soldiers were killed in the attack. Syrian Archive is unable to confirm where soldiers were in Afrin at the time of both attacks. Although, lists of those killed posted online and verified below by Syrian Archive confirm that three soldiers were killed in the attack on the town. According to the journalist, two female employees at the hospital, two employees of the organization Shafak, an anesthesiologist, and other civilians including women and children were also killed in the attack on Al Shifa hospital.

In a recording sent to Syrian Archive, Abu Taym Al Halabi, a media activist who lives in Afrin and about 50 meters away from the hospital, said that seven to eight rockets hit the town in the first attack. He told Syrian Archive he inspected the impact site, determining that rockets fell between civilian homes and on farm land on Al Filat street. He said he photographed those injured at the site. About an hour later, when he was arriving back home, he heard shooting and loud explosions. When he went to the location of the explosions, he saw many injured people leaving the hospital. He helped them and saw significant destruction to the hospital. He said he saw at least six bodies in the area and that because the police were present he was afraid to document what he saw.

Abu Taym told Syrian Archive that he took a picture from afar of a man next to his pregnant wife, who was killed in the attack, before the Civil Defense removed her from the hospital. He asked the captain present whether he was permitted to document what was happening. The captain allowed Abu Taym to take pictures. According to Abu Taym, the scene was tragic, “I saw body parts and corpses, severed hands and feet, dismembered bodies.” He added, “after a few minutes, a person who spoke Turkish stopped us and other journalists from filming.”

The Killed and Injured

The Syrian Archive team was able to confirm 18 the identities of people killed in the bombing that targeted civilian homes and Al Shifa Hospital in Afrin on June 12, 2021. They are:

More than 43 other people were injured. This figure is approximate, based on estimates given in interviews with eyewitnesses and shared in open source information including social media posts, videos, and other public reporting.

#‬# The Damage to Al Shifa Hospital

A gif from a video posted by SAMS showing damage to the hospital’s emergency room and incubators.

A video posted by SAMS on Twitter shows the damage to Al Shifa hospital, which is currently out of service. Footage shows damage to the emergency room and incubators as well as destroyed walls in the corridor leading to the gynecology department, laboratory, radiology department, and outpatient clinics.

A gif from a video originally posted by SAMS showing the damage to Al Shifa Hospital’s outpatient clinic.

Footage taken by Anadolu Agency details the extensive damage to the medical facility. Specifically, damage to parts of the ceiling, the hospital’s foundation, ambulance stretchers, a wheelchair, and hospital medical equipment. Rubble from collapsed portions of the ceiling and walls is scattered all over the hospital. The footage shows the complete destruction of the operations and gynecology departments as well as the hospital’s outpatient clinics. A video posted by Twitter user Anas Marawi shows the damage to the hospital’s laboratory. Photos posted by the Idlib Health Directorate show damage to hospital. The Civil Defense, Al Jazeera, Syria TV, Halab Al Youm, Qasioun, and the website SY 24 posted videos and pictures taken a day after the attack of the significant damage to the hospital, reporting the facility as out of service. Civilian homes were also damaged in the attacks, including homes near the hospital that belonged to lab technician Amin Qoushou (who was killed in the attack) and Afrin resident Izzat Abu Kamal.

Pictures collected by the investigations team of the damage to Al Shifa Hospital in Afrin from the shelling.

International Condemnations and Accusations

SAMS condemned the attack on the hospital, calling the targeting of hospitals “a crime that disrupts humanitarian work.” Similarly Shafak, the Syria Response Coordinators Group, the Civil Defense, and the U.S. State Department issued statements condemning the attack. The Response Coordinators Group called on members of the international community, specifically the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, to uphold their responsibilities and obligations to provide protection for civilians and their infrastructure, and to intervene immediately and urgently to stop the series of crimes against civilians.

International groups, parties to the conflict, and NGOs accused three main parties to the conflict of attacking Al Shifa Hospital:

Claim 1: Syrian Democratic Forces

After the rockets hit Al Shifa Hospital, a number of parties to the Syrian conflict claimed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—a coalition of Kurdish (largely YPG fighters) and Arab militias in northern Syria—were responsible for the attack. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the Syrian Democratic Forces for the strikes, vowing to hold them accountable. Erdogan and the Turkish government consider the SDF to be an extension of the PKK, a Kurdish movement that has taken up arms against Turkey and is considered a terrorist organization by the country. In an article, TRT Arabic quoted the government of the southern Turkish province of Hatay accusing “PKK and YPG militants” of firing Grad type missiles from an area currently controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces near Tal Al Rifaat.

Additionally, the Syrian Interim Government and its Ministry of Defense blamed the “PKK and YPG” for the bombing of Afrin and Al Shifa Hospital. Local and Turkish news reports on the bombing also blamed the Syrian Democratic Forces for the attack.

With the Syrian Interim Government based in Turkey and the recent Turkish offensives against the SDF and YPG militias in northern Syria, the parties above have a notable, vested interest in blaming the majority-Kurdish SDF for the attack on Al Shifa Hospital. The SDF denied the accusations levied against them. Farhad Al Shami, Director of the Media Office for the Syrian Democratic Forces, denied the presence of their forces in the named areas. The Facebook page belonging to the SDF additionally denied the targeting of Al Shifa and the presence of affiliated forces in areas named by Turkish officials and published by news sources, calling for the media to pursue accuracy when reporting the news.

Syrian Archive was unable to find openly available information corroborating the claims made regarding the location of Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and accusations that they targeted Al Shifa Hospital on June 12. In efforts to better understand these accusations against the SDF, Syrian Archive spoke to military officials with the Syrian National Army. Syrian Archive was unable to fully verify the claims made by Youssef Al Hammoud and Captain Amin, officials from the Syrian National Army interviewed by the investigations team.

Youssef Al Hammoud, the military spokesman for the Syrian National Army—an army backed by the Turkish government—said in voice messages that the army was able to locate where the 14 Grad rockets were launched. According to Al Hammoud, six were launched in a first barrage at 18:00 and eight in a second barrage at around 19:00. According to Al Hammoud, these 14 missiles were launched from both a forest area north of Jalbul and from the Basoufan area. Both of these identified areas are under Syrian Democratic Forces control.

In an interview with Syrian Archive, Captain Amin, who is overseeing aviation and artillery monitoring for the Syrian National Army and who claims to have anticipated the attack on Afrin, says he warned twice of an attack on Al Shifa Hospital. He also said that, through bugging devices, he observed PKK fighters preparing to hit the hospital with a rocket launcher 15 minutes before the attack on the hospital. He claims he initially determined the location of the launcher as near the Al Alqmiya area west of Menagh Airport. Captain Amin reported that after the first barrage of missiles that landed near the hospital, he monitored conversations amongst the soldiers about correcting the direction of the rocket. Shortly after, the second barrage began and hit the hospital. Captain Amin added that the first strike was at 18:10, and that at 18:23, he warned, based on what he observed, that the hospital would be hit in the second barrage of rockets. He noted that the first strikes were from the Kashtaar area, while the second strikes were determined as from the Al Alqmiyah area. Both purported areas are under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Captain Amin provided Syrian Archive with a screenshot of a conversation via WhatsApp in a group named “The Battle News Network Tahrir,” showing the warning he sent at 18:23 regarding the targeting of the hospital. Additionally, Captain Amin provided the coordinates of the locations where rockets were allegedly launched from as well as a graphic showing the distance between the launch site and the hospital, a distance of 12.8 km. Captain Amin also provided an image showing the alleged locations and gathering points of the PKK.

Again, Syrian Archive was unable to find information verifying or otherwise corroborating these claims from Al Hammoud and Captain Amin.

Claim 2: Syrian Government

Having attacked a number of hospitals before June 12, as shown in Syrian Archive’s Attacks Against Medical Facilities database, the Syrian government was named as responsible for the attack by Kurdish media. A report by Ronahi TV, citing other media sites, claimed the shells that hit Afrin and Al Shifa hospital came from the towns of Nubl and Al Zahraa, which are under Syrian government control. Additionally, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights blamed the Syrian government for the shelling, claiming Krasnopol missiles were launched from sites in Al Ziyara and Ibbin, areas under the control of the Syrian government.

Syrian Archive was unable to disprove or corroborate claims that Krasnopol missiles were used in the attack. Although, as described later, remnants of a 122mm BM-21 were found in Afrin nearby the strikes on the town. The latest satellite imagery of northern Syria also indicates a Syrian government presence in Al Ziyara. Satellite imagery shows trucks and a small base in east Al Ziyara beginning in late 2018 and early 2019.

Claim 3: Turkish Government

Lastly, groups accused the Turkish government of hitting Afrin and Al Shifa Hospital. An audio recording of Captain Amin warning of an attack on Al Shifa Hospital and purportedly based on “Turkish information” was posted online. Syrian Archive was unable to verify when the audio was recorded. Kurdish media claims that the recording came 15 minutes before the bombing, indicating that the Turks knew about the bombing before it occurred and are potentially responsible for the attacks. Sources also claimed Russia bombed Afrin and beforehand warned Turkish forces of the impending attack on the town.

The Kurdish Observatory for Human Rights also reported on the same audio recording. The group described Turkish Forces as receiving information about the shelling before it occurred and evacuating their military headquarters near the hospital. Kurdish pages on Facebook also blamed the Turkish government for the attack, accusing it of targeting the hospital from the Turkish Province of Kilis.

Syrian Archive found that the alleged launch location of Kilis is out of the range for the BM-21 122mm rocket used in the attack. It is also worth noting that because of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, Kurdish media and groups have a notable, vested interest in blaming the Turkish government for the attack.

Chart of Perpetrator Claims

The chart of perpetrator claims below lists the claim’s source, the named area from which the rockets used in this attack were allegedly launched, the party controlling the named area, and the named area’s distance from the impact sites:

Source of ClaimAlleged Launch LocationArea of ControlDistance from Impact Site (km)
Turkish province of HatayArea near Tal RifaatSDF21.59
Youssef Hammoud/Syrian National ArmyForests north of JalbulSDF10.29
Youssef Hammoud/Syrian National ArmyBasoufan areaSDF18.96
Captain Amin/Syrian National ArmyFirst strike: KashtaarSDF14.38
Captain Amin/Syrian National ArmySecond strike: Al Alqmiya area west of Menagh AirportSDF15.05
Farhad Al Shami - Director of the Media Office for the Syrian Democratic ForcesNublSyrian Government19.18
Farhad Al Shami - Director of the Media Office for the Syrian Democratic ForcesAl ZahraaSyrian Government21.50
The Syrian Observatory for Human RightsAl ZiyaraSyrian Government16.44
The Syrian Observatory for Human RightsIbbinSyrian Government13.16
Kurdish media sourcesKilisTurkey32.40

Syrian Archive examined satellite imagery and searched open sources in an attempt to corroborate the allegations about the potential perpetrators of the attack. We are unable to definitively identify any one of these three alleged perpetrators as the responsible party. However, munitions information and direction of attack analysis may further narrow the reasonable possibilities.

Type of Munition Used

Assessing the munition allegedly used in the attack assists in identifying and potentially excluding allegations regarding the perpetrator of the strikes in Afrin. WhatsApp chats monitored by Syrian Archive as well as social media platforms, circulated photos showing rockets allegedly used in the attacks on the town. Only one of these photos was verified as taken in Afrin around the time of the attack. As shown in the image below, the shape of the spring loaded mechanism for the rocket’s fins match other images of a 122mm BM-21 rocket. Given that only two photos show munition remnants from the attack in Afrin, Syrian Archive cannot verify that only 122mm BM-21 rockets were used in the attack on the town. Syrian Archive also cannot verify that only 122mm BM-21 rockets hit Al Shifa hospital.

afrinmunition1 afrinmunition2 *Pictures shared on social media of munition remnants allegedly from the June 12 attack on Afrin. Syrian Archive was unable to verify the location of the first photo. However, the second photo was geolocated to western Afrin.

Afrin122 A comparison of 122mm BM-21 rocket remnants. The left image is of a munition that hit Afrin on June 12. The right image is a picture posted by SAMS of a 122mm BM-21 rocket that hit one of the organization’s facilities in Eastern Ghouta in 2017.

The BM-21 has been held and used both in northern Syria and throughout the country by the major parties to the conflict. Videos, images, and reports online show Syrian government forces, Syrian Democratic Forces, Turkish Forces, and the Syrian National Army using the BM-21 during and after 2016. The widespread use of the BM-21 makes it difficult to confidently identify a perpetrator. However, assuming only 122mm BM-21 rockets were used in this attack, limitations on its range would rule out certain of the above-listed perpetrator claims made online and collected directly by Syrian Archive.

Kurdish pages online claim that the Turkish government is responsible for the attack, firing missiles from the southern Turkish province of Kilis. However, with a maximum range of around 20 km, the hospital and the fields hit in the barrage of missiles fired towards Afrin are out of the range for a 122mm BM-21 rocket from Kilis. The areas mentioned by Captain Amin of the Syrian National Army, claiming SDF responsibility, are all within the BM-21’s range. As shown below, this includes the Al Alqmiya area west of Mengh Airport and the Kashtaar area. Claims made by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the SDF of Syrian government forces firing the missile from Al Ziyara, Ibbin, and Nubl fall within the rocket’s range. However, the town of Al Zahraa, claimed to be one of the Syrian government’s potential launch points for the rockets, is just outside the rocket’s estimated range.

launchlocationimage The red ring, on satellite imagery taken from Google Earth, indicates the range of the 122mm BM-21. The yellow pins are the general locations of launch sites mentioned in claims gathered by Syrian Archive.

Direction of the Attack on the Hospital

To identify the direction of the attack, Syrian Archive first created a map with a red circle indicating the 20 km range of the 122mm BM-21 rockets, the only munition we can verify was used in the attack on Afrin. The circle is centered on Al Shifa Hospital in Afrin to identify the military forces present within this range.

The map shows areas under the control of the SDF as well as the areas of Nubl, Ibbin, and Al Ziyara under the control of the Syrian government within the range of the BM-21 rockets. If only 122mm BM-21 rockets were used, claims that the attack was launched from Kilis in Turkey might be dismissed given the province lies outside the rocket’s range.

Afrincontrol1 A map of the areas of control surrounding Afrin. Green indicates areas under the control of opposition forces and/or the Turkish government and its affiliated forces. Red indicates areas under Syrian government control. Yellow indicates areas under SDF control. Area of control data is from Syria Live UA Map.

As reported by witnesses interviewed by Syrian Archive as well as information found online, Al Shifa Hospital was hit by two shells. Syrian Archive found that one shell landed in a narrow corridor between the gynecology department and the emergency room. A rocket landing in this east-west directional corridor and having caused significant damage to the buildings surrounding the corridor on the southern and northern sides suggests that the attack likely came from the east or west. Because the corridor is only 3 meters wide and faces east and west, it is an unlikely falling point for a munition launched from north or south of Afrin.

afrin1 An image showing the location of departments in the Al Shifa Hospital and where the rockets hit the facility. The outpatients clinics are in red, the gynecology department is in green, and the emergency room and the laboratory are in yellow. The ‘X’ indicate where the shells fell, according to open sources and witness testimony from medical staff.

Photos and videos obtained by Syrian Archive show a second rocket’s entry hole that faces east on the eastern wall of the clinics department of the hospital. Aerial imagery posted by the Firat Media Agency shows this entry hole and the damage to the eastern and southern parts of the hospital including the clinics department and the southern side of the hospital’s brick roof.

Although an entry hole indicating the entrance of a rocket can be clearly seen in the clinics department, the crater caused by a rocket hitting the corridor has not been documented.

afrin3 Screenshot from a video posted by Sham News Network that shows where the shell hit the wall of the outpatient clinics from the eastern side of the hospital.

firstrocketgeoafrin1 secondrocketgeoafrin The identification of where two shells hit the hospital. A shell hit the corridor between the emergency room and the gynecology department. Another hit the clinics department’s eastern wall.

Damage from the rockets hitting the eastern wall of the clinics department and corridor facing east between the emergency room and gynecology department indicate that the rockets most likely came from the east.

firstrocketafrin secondrocketafrin Pictures from a video posted by the Firat Media Agency of the damage caused by the rockets.

The entry holes on and damage to the hospital’s eastern sides negates the possibility that the facility was hit by missiles coming from the north or west sides of Afrin and indicates that the rockets’ launch was likely to have taken place in an area within 20 km east and south of Afrin.

The map of areas of control shown earlier indicates the presence of SDF and Syrian government forces east of Afrin. This suggests that the launch could have been carried out by the SDF from an area under its control or by the Syrian government from areas under its control.

areaoflaunch areaoflaunchcontrol The possible launch areas within the range of the 122mm BM-21 rockets. The second image shows the possible launch areas over LiveUAMap’s areas of control in Syria on the day of the attack. Green indicates areas under the control of opposition forces and/or the Turkish government and its affiliated forces. Red indicates areas under Syrian government control. Yellow indicates areas under SDF control.

Conclusion

Through the information detailed above, Syrian Archive confirmed that two rockets hit Al Shifa Hospital in Afrin at around 19:00 on June 12, 2021. This happened during the second of two rocket barrages that impacted the town more widely. In total, the rockets killed 19 people in Afrin, among them women and children, and injured more than 43 others. This is in addition to extensive damage to the hospital, which is currently out of service. Given the limitations of the investigation, Syrian Archive is unable to definitively identify the party responsible for the strikes. However, open source information and testimonies collected by Syrian Archive point towards the Syrian Democratic Forces or the Syrian government as most likely responsible for the incident.

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