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INVESTIGATIONS

Airstrikes on the Al Arshani Water Pump Station in Idlib

February 15, 2022

An investigation into airstrikes on the Al Arshani Water Pump Station in Idlib

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Initial summary

  • Place of Incident: Al Arshani village, west of Idlib city
  • Impact site: Al Arshani Water Pump Station
  • Date: January 2, 2022
  • Time: Between 11:30 - 12:00 local time
  • Victims: At least one worker at the station was injured in the attack
  • Type of attack: At least two airstrikes caused substantial damage to the Al Arshani Water Pump Station
  • Munitions likely used: Unidentified
  • Potentially responsible: A Russian Air Force warplane most likely launched the attack

Introduction

On January 2, 2022, around 11:44 local time, a Russian warplane appears to have directly bombed the northeastern side of the Al Arshani Water Pump Station, located west of Idlib city. This initial bombing was followed by a second strike minutes later that damaged the western building of the station, injuring at least one station worker. The airstrikes caused substantial damage to the station’s buildings as well as damaged equipment and forced the station’s main water pumping pipe temporarily out of service. The water pipe is the main source of water for about a quarter of a million people in Idlib city.

Methodology

Syrian Archive conducted an investigation into the incident by:

  • Preserving, analysing, and verifying 68 videos, pictures, and reports uploaded to social media showing the impact of the bombing as well as other reported incidents of Russian warplanes bombing vital facilities in the nearby area;
  • Visiting the impact site and documenting, with 31 pictures, the destruction from and location of the missiles that hit the station as well as verifying that the location photographed by the investigations team on the ground matches the photos and videos uploaded online;
  • Verifying the location and timing of the incident by analysing the data and visual content posted online and comparing it with satellite images, landmarks, the coordinates sent by the investigation team on the ground, and the first online reports of the attack; and
  • Analysing satellite images showing the location as well as flight observation data that shows the aircraft over the village around the alleged time of the incident.

This investigation is a summary of multiple stages of analysis of available open and closed source information. These sources provided the team with information related to the date, timing, location, victims, and impact of the attack. By examining all available information about the attack, the investigation team developed an understanding of the incident and its likely perpetrator.

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

About the Al Arshani Water Pump Station

The Al Arshani Water Pump Station is located at the foot of a plateau in northwestern Syria. The station is around 1.2 km southeast of Al Arshani village, 1 km northwest of the Sejer and Fayoum villages, and 7.5 km west of Idlib city center. Syrian Archive’s investigations team determined the exact location of the facility by analysing photos available online and photos obtained from private sources.

Humanitarian agencies UNICEF and GOAL support the Al Arshani Water Station, according to a report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights. In a press statement made on January 4, 2022, UNICEF called Al Arshani one of the main water stations providing free water to more than a quarter of a million people in Idlib city and its immediate surroundings, most of whom are displaced. According to a Syrian Archive source, the station feeds parts of Idlib city and serves about 250,000 of the 750,000 people living in Idlib city.

Satellite images show residential areas around the station. According to a report published on the day of the incident by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the station was devoid of any military equipment.

image40 Al Arshani Water Pump Station - Source: Google Earth

The walled station covers an area of roughly 14 thousand square metres, according to measurements done on Google Earth. Satellite imagery shows the station consists of 3 blocks of buildings/facilities and a main water pumping line. These are:

  1. A northern facility consisting of a single building, which we will refer to in this investigation as Facility No. 1.
  2. An eastern facility consisting of two buildings and a metal roof, which we will refer to in this investigation as Facility No. 2.
  3. A western facility consisting of a single building, which we will refer to in this investigation as Facility No. 3.
  4. The main water pump line, which we will refer to in this investigation as Facility No. 4.

image36 Satellite imagery of the three station facilities and main water line at the Al Arshani Station - Source: Google Earth

Geolocation

Reports by Orient News and Thiqa News Agency as well as other photos and reports online were analysed by the Syrian Archive team. The team identified 3 building blocks and a damaged main water pipe surrounded by an external wall at the station.

Screenshots showing the Al Arshani station taken from the east to west, with a small building with a blue roof, and a screenshot showing a damaged water pipe taken from the northeast at the same location Source: Orient News

Syrian Archive’s investigations team located the station and was able to confirm that the photos and reports published online match the location on satellite imagery.

image27 The location of Al Arshani Station, the orange, camera-shaped icons represent the locations where the pictures were taken from.

What happened (and when)?

All available information indicates that between 11:30 - 12:00 on January 2, 2022 one or more warplanes belonging to the Russian Air Force attacked the Al Arshani Water Pump Station west of Idlib city with two, successive air strikes. The attack injured at least one station worker and destroyed the station’s three building blocks in addition to damaging the main water line, which was forced out of service.

The first reports on the incident appeared online at around 11:50. The Al Mohrar Media Network posted on Telegram with the hashtag ‘urgent’ stating that Russian aircraft launched an air raid on the western outskirts of Idlib city.

image14 Source: Al Mohrar Media Network’s post on Telegram

Shortly after, both Al Jisr Satellite Channel and the Syrian News Agency/Sana posted on Telegram of airstrikes, which they also said were Russian, on the western outskirts of Idlib city.

image39 Source: A post by the Jisr Satellite Channel on Telegram

Rumaf Agency “Wajah Al Haq” posted on its Facebook page on January 2, 2022 at 12:13 local time that for the second day in a row, Russian warplanes launched more than 6 air raids on the Idlib governorate. The Agency reported of an airstrike attack in the western outskirts of Idlib city that coincided with the presence of Russian reconnaissance aircraft over the area.

image9 A post by Mahmod Dheim mentions intense Russian airstrikes targeting the area of Idlib city at 12:32 local time on January 2, 2022 - Source: Facebook post

About an hour after the first attack, the Al Jazeera Syria Facebook page posted a video at 12:42 allegedly showing three Russian airstrikes hitting the same place in the western outskirts of Idlib city. Orient Radio posted the same video, reporting that the airstrikes shown in the video clips were hitting Al Arshani Station.

image53 A video published by Al Jazeera Syria at 12:42 on January 2, 2022 of three airstrikes hitting the same location on the western outskirts of Idlib city - Source: Al Jazeera Syria video

At 12:55 local time, Ahmad Ghajar posted on Facebook a video showing the aftermath of the attack on the Al Arshani Station. The video shows the damage to the station’s main water line, which feeds the city of Idlib, including flowing water from the damaged line. According to Ghajar, more than ten airstrikes by Russian warplanes had hit Idlib so far that day.

image45 A video clip showing the flow of water from the damaged water line at the Al Arshani Station after it was hit - Source: a Facebook post by the activist Ahmed Ghajar

At 13:02 local time, journalist Hadi Al Abdullah posted on his Telegram channel that Russian aircraft had targeted the main water station for Idlib city.

image11

Source: A post by Hadi Al Abdullah on Telegram

At 13:10 local time, Orient News’ Facebook page posted a video showing the moment Al Arshani Water Station was hit. According to Orient News, the video was taken from the Arab Saeed - Al Arshani area in the Idlib countryside and shows the station from the southeast. The Syrian Archive team found that the terrain in the video matches the terrain shown in Google Earth Pro for the Arab Saeed - Al Arshani area near where the Al Arshani station is located.

image50

A video posted by Orient’s Facebook page at 13:10 on January 2, 2022, of Russian warplanes bombing the Al Arshani station in Idlib countryside - Source: An Orient News video

At 13:11 local time, Orient Radio’s Facebook page posted another video of reportedly Russian warplanes hitting the Al Arshani station. Syrian Archive’s investigations team was able to determine the video was filmed from the general location of the Sejer and Fayoum villages. The camera is pointing towards the northeast in the video.

image26 A video posted by Orient Radio on Facebook at 13:11 on January 2, 2022 of Russian warplanes hitting Al Arshani Station - Source: An Orient Radio video

The Facebook page Idlib Today published a video showing the moment the Al Arshani Station was hit. Comments indicated that the video shows the second airstrike on the station. The investigations team was able to confirm that the video does show Al Arshani Station and was filmed from north of the Sejer and Fayoum villages towards the east, showing the western facade of Facility No. 3.

The investigations team was able to confirm that the video shows Al Arshani Station and was filmed from north of the Sejer and Faymoun villages towards the east, showing the western facade of Facility No. 3. - Source: A video from the Idlib Today Facebook page

image17 An analysis confirming the facade of Al Arshani Station’s Facility No. 3, which consists of 7 sections, and is shown in a video from the Idlib Today page.

The Facebook page of the Syrian Civil Defence also posted photos showing the aftermath of the attack on the station, which they reported injured a station worker.

image8 A picture of Al Arshani Station after the attack. The picture shows the eastern facade of Facility No. 1 - Source: Syrian Civil Defence Facebook page post

A comparison of the videos and photos with prominent landmarks against satellite imagery and other reports of the attack confirms that Al Arshani Station—west of Idlib city—was attacked from the air between 11:30 - 12:00 local time.

Chronolocation

To estimate attack timing, Syrian Archive analysed: upload times for verified online content, shadow direction and length in videos of the attack or its near-aftermath, and flight observation data for any corroborative entries.

Social media posts outlined above alerting of an airstrike on the town were all published after 11:50. For shadow analysis, the Idlib Today video in particular shows the moment of one of the strikes on the Al Arshani Station. Using the online tool SunCalc to calculate the approximate position of the sun given the visible shadows, this video was filmed at around11:30 or 12:10 in Idlib. The available flight observation data — outlined later in this report — documents planes circling above Idlib city around this same time.

Given this information Syrian Archive estimates that the strikes occurred between approximately 11:30 - 12:00 on January 2, 2022.

Our best estimate from visual analysis is that the Idlib Today video was filmed at 11:45. With a 15 minute margin for error on either side, to allow for possible imprecision in this analysis and earlier or subsequent strikes, we estimate 11:30 - 12:00 as the time of filming and attack

Damage

Verified videos and photos published online show the impact of the bombing on Al Arshani Water Station.

Facility No. 1 (Northern)

The video screenshots below – which the Syrian Archive team examined, analysed, and compared against satellite imagery – show the damage to the eastern side of Facility No. 1 at Al Arshani Station. The pictures show damage to the entire building block and a partial collapse of its concrete walls and columns in addition to significant rubble and damage to a taxi that was parked in the area. Media also shows holes, likely caused by shrapnel, in the equipment inside the facility.

Screenshots of Orient News’ report on the bombing of Al Arshani Water Station - Source: Orient News’ video report

Facility No. 2 (Eastern)

Verified footage shows the complete destruction of Facility No. 2. Video shows a collapsed roof, concrete columns, and walls in addition to a damaged tank in the facility and iron rebar exposed in the attack.

Sources: Orient News’ video report on the bombing of the Al Arshani Water Station and Pictures posted on Facebook by the Syrian Civil Defence of the damage to Facility No. 2

Facility No. 3 (Western)

In the video of the attack posted by the page Idlib Today, previously mentioned in this investigation, an airstrike is shown hitting near Facility No. 3 on its northwestern side.

image24 The moment Facility No. 3 (Western Building) was hit - Source: Idlib Today Facebook page video

Syrian Archive’s investigations team also visited the incident site to directly document the damage. The team determined the location of the fall of one of the missiles as near Facility No. 3, specifically near the building’s western wall. The team documented the damage to the facility and the collapse of parts of the outer wall.

location1 Satellite image taken on January 16, 2022 showing the location of the shell falling near the station’s western wall. Source: Digital Globe

The Syrian Civil Defence Facebook page also posted a video showing the damage to the facility and its wall.

image55 A panorama of the facility fence, which Syrian Archive made by collecting 6 frames from the Syrian Civil Defence video - Source: Video posted by the Syrian Civil Defence Facebook page

Equipment and machinery

Pictures and videos posted online show damage to the machinery and equipment in the facility. Specifically, the damage to tanks in the facility that were punctured by shrapnel in addition to damage to other equipment from collapsed walls and ceilings as well as broken glass. Furniture inside the facility was also damaged by the attack.

Screenshots of Orient News’ report on the bombing of Al Arshani Water Station - Source: Orient News’ video report

image41 Screenshot of Al Jazeera Syria’s video of the impact of the bombing on the water station - Source: Al Jazeera Syria video posted on Facebook

Main Water Pump Line, No. 4

The attack damaged the station’s main water pipe, referred to in this investigation as Facility No. 4. Pictures show a crack in addition to holes in the water pipe. This damage put the station temporarily out of service.

Sources: Orient News’ video report, Al Jazeera Syria and An infographic posted by the Syrian Civil Defence Facebook page

The geolocation conducted by the Syrian Archive team confirms a match between the video posted by Ahmed Ghajar on Facebook and additional photos of the damage to the main water pipe at Al Arshani Station. It can be located to the northeastern side of Facility No. 1 (which appears in the center of the image below) and Facility No. 3, which is located west in the video (right in the image).

image31 A screenshot of a video posted on Facebook after Al Arshani Station was hit and the water line feeding Idlib city was damaged. The video shows water flowing from the damaged water line - Source: Ahmed Ghajar’s Facebook post

On January 4, 2022, the Public Foundation for Drinking Water in Idlib Facebook page posted pictures of the replacement of the damaged water pipe.

On January 6, the Syrian Civil Defence Facebook page posted photos of the removal of rubble and repair of the Al Arshani Water Station.

The damage to the station from the attack halted water pumping from more than a quarter of a million people. The attack also led to the suspension of pumping by the Sejer Station, which is connected to the Al Arshani Station, according to engineer and director of the water stations in Idlib Abudllah Hamid who was interviewed in an Orient News report.

Summary of damage and number of airstrikes

Syrian Archive identified the following damaged after the attack:

  • Facility No. 1 (Northern): The largest damage was to the building’s eastern side, which was completely destroyed.
  • Facility No. 2 (Eastern): The northern side was completely destroyed, including the metal roof, in addition to damage to the southern side of the facility.
  • Facility No. 3 (Western): Minor damage to the building, including broken windows, and the destruction of portions of the nearby western wall.
  • Facility No. 4 (main water pipe): Substantial damage, forcing the facility out of service and requiring replacement.

By analysing the impact of the attacks as well as the videos showing the airstrikes, the investigations team concluded that the Al Arshani Station was hit by at least two airstrikes. One of the airstrikes hit the northeastern section of the station and destroyed the northern section of Facility No. 2 and the western side of Facility No. 1 as well as damaged the main water pipe No. 4. The other airstrike damaged Facility No. 3 from the northwest, hitting near the western wall.

image3 A picture of the destruction of the station’s facilities (1, 2, 3, and 4). The red colour indicates the areas that were most damaged, including the station’s northeastern side and western wall. The image also shows the estimated impact sites of the airstrikes.

To add another layer of verification, Syrian Archive compared recent satellite images taken after the incident with satellite images taken before the attack. This shows clear damage to the station in the intervening time.

image54 A satellite image taken on January 16, 2022 after the incident, which shows the complete destruction of the northern building of Block No. 2 (Eastern)

A comparison of satellite images from before and after the attack:

Potentially responsible

Journalists and media outlets blamed Russian warplanes for the attack on Al Arshani Station, including the Al Moharer Media Network on Telegram, videos circulated by journalists in the region, and Orient News. A statement published by Al Sham News Agency from Mohamed Jama Diban—Director General of the Public Foundation for Drinking Water in Idlib—reports of Russian aircraft hitting the station. In a report on the incident, the Syrian Civil Defence also blames Russian aircraft for the attack.

Regarding the specific type of plane used in the attack, the Anadolu Agency published a report on the bombing of Al Arshani Station, stating that information from the Syrian opposition’s aviation observatory suggests a Russian Su-34 bombed the station.

Flight observation data analysis

To further verify the incident, Syrian Archive cross-referenced information from open sources with flight observation data from a spotter organisation, 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. Syrian Archive analysed the available data for flights occurring briefly before, during, and after the time of the incident around 12:00 near Al Arshani.

At 9:59, 11:08, and 11:28, Russian fixed-wing aircraft were spotted departing south east from the Russia-operated Hmeymim Airbase, around 85 km south west of Al Arshani. Russian fixed-wing aircraft noted in the data are either Su-25, Su-30, Su-34, Su-35, or at times Su-24 warplanes. Around the time of these departures, between 11:19 to 12:12, Russian fixed-wing aircraft were spotted multiple times flying northwest over Jabal Arbain, an area around 72 km northeast of Hmeymim Airbase and 21 km south east of Al Arshani. Russian fixed-wing aircraft were additionally spotted multiple times flying north over Orm Al Joz, a town around 19 km south of Al Arshani, between 11:28 and 12:05. Moreover, Russian aircraft were spotted flying northwest over Ariha, a town around 17 km south east of Al Arshani, at 11:20 and spotted multiple times circling over the town between 10:29 and 11:15. In Killi, a town around 21 km north of Al Arshani, Russian aircraft were spotted flying south at 10:28, 10:55, 11:00, 11:05, and 11:12.

Around the time of the attack, Russian aircraft were spotted flying over the cities and towns directly neighbouring Al Arshani. At 11:23, 11:31, 11:38, 12:01, and 12:22, Russian aircraft were spotted flying south over Sarmin, a town around 17 km east of Al Arshani. Additionally, Russian aircraft were spotted flying south over Binnish, a town around 14 km east of Al Arshani, at 11:22, 11:30, 11:38, 11:46, and 12:22. Russian aircraft were also spotted multiple times flying east over Maaret Misrin, a town around 12 km north east of Al Arshani, between 11:21 and 11:53. Russian aircraft were spotted circling over Idlib city, around 7 km west of Al Arshani, at 11:52, 11:59, 12:06, 12:14, 12:24, and 12:29. Lastly, Russian aircraft were spotted circling over Hafas Jara, around 6 km north of Al Arshani, at 11:45.

The commonly observable practice of circling by warzone aircrafts generally indicates target acquisition and/or preparation for an imminent strike. The circling and significant presence of Russian aircraft above cities and villages near Al Arshani between 11:30 - 12:00 approximately matches with claims of the time of the attack. There is no information available positively confirming that one or more of the observed aircraft was directly involved in the strike detailed above. Nevertheless, the reported presence of Russian aircraft above the towns surrounding Al Arshani at or around the time of the strike is corroborative of claims that the Russian Air Force is responsible for the attack.

Syrian Archive also analysed the local area’s observatory channels, which publish warnings when aircraft are approaching, and among these channels is the Syria Observatory Telegram channel. This channel published a report at 11:37 local time of a Russian plane that was spotted in Hafs Jara heading north. A Russian plane was then spotted in Maaret Masreen heading east. At 11:38, a Russian warplane was spotted in Foah heading south. Russian warplanes were also spotted in Binnish and Sarmin flying south at 11:44.

Sources: The The Al-Ahrar Aviation Observatory channel and the Syria Observatory on Telegram

According to the Al Ahrar Aviation Observatory Telegram channel, a Russian warplane carried out an attack west of Idlib at 11:44 local time. The plane was observed circling and returning to carry out another attack on the same location at 11:48. The observatory published an image of a Russian Su-34 aircraft at 11:52 and, according to the observatory, the plane carried out an additional attack at 12:06. (The Syrian Air Force is not known to operate Su-34 warplanes.)

The presence of Russian warplanes near the Al Arshani Station corroborates the estimated time of the incident and claims that the Russian warplanes are possible perpetrators of the attack.

Other attacks against vital facilities and livestock during this period

The Syrian Civil Defence posted an infographic video about what it claims is the systematic targeting of vital facilities and service facilities including the Al Arshani Water Pump Station, poultry farms, and food production facilities.

The Syrian Civil Defence published a report claiming Russian aircraft targeted 7 poultry farms in northwestern Syria between November 11, 2021 and January 4, 2022, killing 8 civilians and injuring eleven others. The report stated:

“The direct and deliberate Russian bombing of vital facilities in general, and poultry farms in particular, not only poses a threat to the viablity and sources of income of hundreds of families in northwestern Syria, but also has an impact on the significant rise in the prices of basic materials and the great danger threatening livestock in all regions of northwest Syria, which is an agricultural area that depends on agriculture and livestock as a source of livelihood for the hundreds of families who lost their livelihoods because of displacement and the war of the regime and Russia on civilians in the past ten years.”

According to the Syrian Civil Defence and other sources, Russian warplanes continued to bomb the Idlib governorate on January 3, 2022 – the day after the attack on Al Arshani Water Pump. The Syrian Civil Defence Facebook page posted a video on the targeting of poultry farms near Armanaz and Kafr Takharim in Idlib. And, Russian warplanes also hit the southern countryside of Idlib, according to a Syrian Civil Defence video on Facebook, in addition to the eastern outskirts of Idlib city, according to another video posted by the Syrian Civil Defence on Facebook.

Previous attacks on water facilities in Idlib governorate

The Syrian Archive investigations team collected information on additional, previously conducted attacks on water facilities in the Idlib government. Available reporting on them is reproduced here:

The Zarq water tank in Maaret Al Numan, July 2019

On July 14, 2019, the Maaret Al Numan Local Council page posted pictures on Facebook of the damage to the Zarqa water station, which was reportedly put out of service by 6 airstrikes. The attack was allegedly conducted by Russian warplanes.

image2 Source: The Maaret Al Numan Local Council Facebook page

News sites, including Zaman Al Wasl and Sada Al Waqaa Al Souria, published reports on the attack. Al Arabi Al Jadeed published a report on July 15, 2019 about Russian aircraft hitting the main and only water tank in Maaret Al Numan. The report included an interview with the head of Maaret Al Numan’s local council, Bilal Zikra, who stated that Syrian government planes had previously bombed water stations in the town of Basida, near Maaret Al Numan.

Hobait, Kafe Ein, and Baabdin

Al-Modon published a report on July 16, 2019, in which it mentioned the destruction of two water stations and a water tank in the town of Hobait, a water station in Kafr Ein, and an attack on the Baabdin water station.

The drinking water tank in the town of Heish, September 2019

According to a report by the website Syria TV, on September 7, 2019, unknown persons placed a large amount of explosives at the bases and columns of the main water tank in Hesih, a town south of Idlib, completely destroying and toppling the tank.

image51 A picture of the Heish water tank that exploded in September 2019 - Source: Syria TV report

Several reports from the press pointed to the severe drinking water crisis in the Idlib government, including Ain Al Madina in 2016 and Al Arabi Al Jadeed in 2020.

Conclusion

Through the information detailed above, Syrian Archive confirms that an aerial bombardment consisting of at least two airstrikes caused substantial damage to the Al Arshani Water Station, west of Idlib city on January 2, between 11:30 and 12:00. At least one of the strikes directly hit the facility. The attack injured at least one worker in the station and damaged three of the facility’s buildings including the station’s main water pipe, putting the station temporarily out of service.

Syrian Archive is unable to definitively identify the party responsible for the strike, though open source information collected by Syrian Archive indicates that a Russian government warplane – or warplanes – likely launched the attack.

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