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INVESTIGATIONS

Missile Destroyed Tents in IDP Camp in Qah

August 3, 2020

Investigation reveals a surface-surface missile hit the old Qah IDP Camp in northwestern Idlib

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Initial Summary

  • Place of Incident: Idlib: Qah
  • Location Hit: the old Qah IDP Camp and Maternity Hospital
  • Date: 20 November 2019
  • Time: Around 19:15 according to interviewed residents, doctors, and other witnesses as well as open sources and reports by additional NGOs outlined below.
  • Deaths: At least 16 civilians according to doctors from Atma Hospital, the United Nations, SAMS, and open sources.
  • Wounded: over 50 civilians, according to SAMS and open sources.
  • Type of Incident: Surface-to-surface missile
  • Munitions Used: 97MR Tochka Missile
  • Potentially Responsible: Open sources and the munition used point towards the Syrian government or Syrian government-affiliated forces as potentially responsible for the strike.

Introduction

Shortly after the child finished her theater performance at the only school in the Qah Camp, first responders searched to find her amongst the victims of a strike that hit the camp on the evening of November 20, 2019. She was one of seven children and 9 adults who died in the strike.

The strike hit the tents of the Qah camp, housing internally displaced persons (IDP) in the northern countryside of Idlib, around 3 km away from the Turkish border and any military presence.

Methodology

Syrian Archive conducted an investigation into the incident, consisting of three components:

  1. A local investigations team collected 6 testimonies from eye-witnesses or those who witnessed the immediate aftermath of the airstrike and took photographs and videos of the impact site;
  2. Secured, analysed, and verified 41 videos and images uploaded to social media networks purportedly showing the incident;
  3. Analysed satellite imagery showing the camp after the incident as well as flight observation data revealing the planes over the town at the purported time of the strike.

The combined analysis of these sources has culminated in the present investigation report. Complementing each other, they provide information regarding the incident’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 potential perpetrators.

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

The Background of Qah Camp

Qah IDP Camp located in the village Qah, 40 km northwest of Aleppo and along the Deir Hassan highway, is one of the oldest of the 26 IDP camps in the area. It was first established in the early months of 2012. The majority of the around 20,000 residents in the camp have experienced poor economic and living conditions for over seven years now. Camp residents come from the rural areas of Hama, the southern countryside of Idlib, and the cities of Aleppo and Damascus according to Fadi Al Salloum, a resident of the camp since its establishment.

Satellite imagery from Google Earth showing the camp, the location of the incident, Qah Hospital, and the village’s neighboring towns.

Currently, over 20,509 people live in the Qah camps in and around the village of Qah with 3,807 families in 3,210 tens and 1,170 rooms. These numbers are continually growing. 88% of the rooms are covered in tarps to keep out the rain. However, 468 tents in the camp are in desperate need of repair, according to the camp’s Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU) interviewed by Syrian Archive’s investigations team. There are 499 orphans in the camp and 200 children with special needs including 90 who are paralyzed, 27 who are deaf, and 32 who are blind.

The ACU confirmed that while the community has pipeline networks for drinking water and sewage, they do not meet the needs of all the residents in the camp. Some resort to buying tank water at a price of 600 Syrian pounds per cubic meter to compensate for shortages. Moreover, many of those at the camp have also built private bathrooms near their own tents to complement the 468 public toilets available to the community. Alongside private bathrooms, residents have attempted to build concrete floors and walls for their tents to protect them from harsh weather conditions in the winter.

In addition to 3 medical points, the camp also has a maternity hospital supported by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). There is also one primary school and kindergarten in the camp. Alongside schooling and medical assistance, according to a recent ACU report assessing IDP camps in northern Syria, a monthly food basket is provided to most camp residents. Five camp residents, interviewed by Syrian Archive’s investigations team, confirmed that they receive a monthly food basket from UNICEF, or a related organization, and a hygiene basket once every two to three months. Additionally, daily free bread is provided to 83% of the community. However, this aid is not enough for those in the camp. Families suffer from acute food shortages and a severe lack of job opportunities to pay for more food. With the shortage in humanitarian aid, 65% of the community lacks winter clothes, blankets, fuel for heating, and heaters themselves. Job opportunities, according to camp residents, are scarce making it difficult to pay for basic necessities.

image1 An image of Qah IDP camp posted on Facebook in 2015.

Camp residents also told the investigations team that residents mostly harvest fruits and vegetables in the agricultural seasons in order to earn an income. In the winter, they depend on the autumn olive harvest, where they may receive a small stipend for their work. Nevertheless, residents of the camp, such as Umm Muhammed, say that life there is harsh and difficult, but much more merciful than living outside the camp where rent is high and safety is not guaranteed. The strike on November 20, however, threatened the assumed safety within IDP camps from air and ground attacks.

What Happened (and When)?

image15 A still from a video taken by the investigations team of burned tents from after the strike.

A surface-to-surface missile hit the old Qah IDP camp on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 at around 19:15 as reported in interviews conducted by Syrian Archive’s investigations team on the ground and confirmed in open sources. The incident, according to camp resident Fadi Al Salloum interviewed by the investigations team, took place after evening prayer (Salat Al Isha at 17:52 in Qah) when most of the camp residents were in their homes.

image7 An image from Shaam News of the strike on Qah IDP Camp.

Several images and videos from Aleppo Media Center, Shaam News Network, and the Facebook page Darkoush City Council show fires and smoke coming from the camp the night of the strike. Additional reports from Orient News, Baladi News Network, Syria TV, and Al Jazeera show the camp shortly after the fires were put out. In these initial reports, witnesses and victims blamed the Syrian government for the strike. The Violations Documentation Center in Syria reported initial estimates of twelve civilians killed with over thirty five injured. The organization also confirmed that a large fire broke out in the camp destroying a number of tents, thus worsening the damage of the blast.

image9 Syrian Archive geolocated images and videos showing the destroyed tents in order to determine the exact location of the strike. Satellite imagery, featured later in the report, further confirms the location, showing the destroyed tents replaced later on.

In a statement, the Syrian Civil Defense attributed the damage to a missile carrying cluster bombs, outlawed under international law. The missile, according to the Civil Defense, was a Russian made Tochka short range surface to surface missile. This was confirmed independently by flight and military observers in Jisr Al Shughour, interviewed by the investigations team, who reported no planes above Qah at the time of the attack. Additionally, the investigations team, while on the ground, took images and videos of the remnants of the missile.

Images obtained by the investigations team from sources on the ground of the 9M79 Tochka missile found at the site of the incident.

These images show the missile’s identification number 9M79. According to Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, the 9M79 Tochka missile is almost solely used by Syrian government forces, such as in late May 2018, and is produced in Russia. The distinct shape, fins, and tail wings of the missile match the remnants shown in videos and images taken by the investigations team and found online. It is probable that the missile was carrying cluster munitions.

image21 An image of the missile posted onto Twitter the night of the incident.

image13 An image of the 9M79 Tochka missile compared with footage of the missile obtained by Syrian Archive.

In a statement, SAMS additionally confirmed the usage of missiles containing cluster munitions in the strike. SAMS confirmed that a missile landed around 25 meters away from the maternity hospital in the camp. With images of the damaged hospital, SAMS reported 16 civilians killed (including 7 children and 3 women) and 63 injured (including 4 SAMS staff) in the strike. The statement asserts that the hospital was included in the United Nations’ Deconfliction Mechanism, and parties to the conflict would therefore have been aware of its existence and exact location.

Saeed Al Youssef, a lawyer and civil activist, told the investigations team that “the camp was targeted on International Children’s Day with most of its victims also children.” Al Youssef mentioned a statement by Mark Cutts, the United Nations Regional Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, who condemned the strike on the camp and hospital and called for an investigation into the incident. This statement includes additional statements from other UN agencies. The lawyer emphasized that, like all massacres committed against Syrians every day, this targeting unfortunately will be forgotten and the perpetrators will not be held accountable.

Since the strike, a large majority of the residents have left their tents seeking refuge with relatives elsewhere or in nearby camps, according to Salloum. Despite the harsh and cold climate in winter, many of them have begun living under olive trees in fear of another strike on the camp. The damage to tents and the maternity hospital worsened already horrible conditions for those in the camp.

Damage

Damage to the camp from the missile, as recorded by the investigations team and local news sources at the impact site, was severe. Destroyed and burnt tents are shown in video reports from open sources such as Sham News Network, Al Ayyam Newspaper, and SMART News. The missile’s blast burned four tents completely while an additional sixteen tents were damaged by shrapnel, according to the investigations team on the ground.

Satellite imagery from Digital Globe shows the tents destroyed by the blast and subsequent fires.

image61 Satellite imagery from December 2, 2019 also shows the placement of new tents in the location where the missile landed.

Images and videos taken by the investigations team also show the belongings of camp residents destroyed by the blast and its subsequent fire. Images posted by SAMS reveal the damage to the maternity hospital, which according to the organization was 25 meters away from the blast.

Images taken by the investigations team of tents destroyed by the missile blast, often including the majority of their belongings.

Deaths and Injuries

image3 An image provided to the investigations team by Atma Hospital staff showing a list of those injured and dead as recorded by Atma Hospital. The list reports 16 injured as well as 1 man and 3 unidentified children dead.

The strike killed at least 16 civilians, including 7 children, as confirmed by local news sources, the Syrian Civil Defense, and the United Nations. Salloum recounts the fear and panic at the time of the strike, specifically the remains and blood that covered the ground before ambulances and the Syrian Civil Defense arrived at the scene. Another camp resident, Umm Muhammed, recalls the same number of children injured and killed mentioning a child she saw that was completely burned. Dr. Abd Al Muti from Atma Hospital (4 km away from the site of the strike) confirmed that four children and a young man in his twenties died at the hospital after being taken there due to the strike. He mentioned that a number of cases were transferred to other hospitals in Bab Al Hawa (8 km away) and Aqrabat (3 km away) as well as across the border to Turkey.

Shortly after the strike, multiple news sources such as Aleppo Media Center and SMART News reported 16 killed in the blast. Sham News published an article two days after the strike reporting an increase in the number of those killed from 16 to 22 with around 54 civilians injured. Syrian Archive was able to identify 16 killed and 16 injured in the incident, from online open source, some which show images of victims. Some of these names could be cross-referenced with documentation provided by staff at Atma Hospital. Records provided by Atma hospital show 4 unidentified civilians killed in the blast. Syrian Archive is unsure whether they were later identified and featured in social media posts hence the count of at least 16 killed.

Killed

NameHometownAgeFeatured in Open Source ListFeatured in Hospital Record
Lamia Al AboudKafr ZitaN/AX
Unnamed daughter of Lamia Al AboudKafr ZitaN/AX
Abdo Abdel FattahN/A12X
Zahra Abdul Sattar QintarN/A40X
Masa Hamida Al KhalidN/A43X
Nouriya QaddourN/A50X
Ismail Jamal AsaliAl Rami25X
Jamal Ismail AsaliAl Rami1X
Youssef Jamal AsaliAl Rami13X
Jamal Mustafa AsaliAl Rami8X
Maha Hamza AsaliAl Rami3X
Maysa Nadhir Al YahyaHassN/AX
Nawara Mamoun QitumHassN/AX
Hur Mamoun QitumHassN/AX
Diab MounirQahN/AXX
Sanaa Ahmed Al MousaShannanN/AX
Unidentified ChildN/AN/AX
Unidentified ChildN/AN/AX
Unidentified ChildN/AN/AX
Unidentified ManN/AN/AX

Injured

NameHometownAgeFeatured in Open Source ListFeatured in Hospital Record
Mohammed BakourKafr Zita35X
Fatima BakourKafr Zita25X
Ahmed JalouN/A30X
Israa Al DaaefHass25X
Abrar QitumHass10X
Basil Al FarjN/AN/AX
Ismail AslaN/A25X
Jamil MelhemN/A1X
Aisha Al NabulsiHass31X
Sanaa Ahmed MoussaN/A31X
Siham SuleimanHass35X
Mohammed Hassan Al AliN/A80X
Fatima KanjouHass25X
Samer Al KhalafN/AN/AX
Ahmed Al IbrahimN/AN/AX
Ahmed Al AliN/A22X

Parties Potentially Responsible

Providers of flight observation data usually relied on for the investigations, do not show that flights were spotted over, near, or around Qah briefly before, during, and briefly after the time of the strike. This further corroborates posts and news reports that the camp was hit by a surface-to-surface missile.

image17 A satellite image with Qah and the general Jabal Al Azzan region circled in red.

The usage of a Tochka missile, not yet reported as used or obtained by opposition groups, indicates that Syrian government or Syrian government-affiliated forces may be responsible for the strike. This is also claimed by local and international news sources. In line with this, Enab Baladi, Syrian Network for Human Rights, Al Modon, and Violations Documentation Center in Syria state that the missile was most likely fired from a base in government-held territory, specifically the Jabal Al Azzan region of southern Aleppo. Given the missile’s varied range depending on type between 70 - 120 km, these government or government-affiliated bases, the farthest being 60 km away from Qah, are a possible launch point for the Tochka 9M79 missile that hit the camp.

Conclusion

From the information outlined above, Syrian Archive finds that a 9M79 Tochka missile hit the old Qah IDP camp on the night of November 20, 2019 at around 19:15. The strike killed at least 16 residents and injured over 50 individuals living in the camp. Fires from the missile’s blast burned and destroyed a number of the residents’ tents and forced them to evacuate from their place of refuge. Syrian Archive is unable to definitively identify the perpetrator of the strike. However, given the limited usage of the Tochka missile and the proximity to possible launching sites, Syrian government or Syrian government-affiliated forces may be responsible for the strike.

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