As Jets Kill Civilians At Refugee Camp, Russia Hosts Slick Propaganda Concert In Palmyra

May 6, 2016

The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.

Russia Blames Al Nusra Front For Bombing Refugee Camp; Activists & NGO Disagree

As we reported earlier, an airstrike — and all reports from the ground stress that it was an airstrike — has hit the Al-Kamouna Syrian refugee camp near Sarmada, Idlib province (map). While many recent airstrikes against civilian targets have reportedly been carried out by Syrian government jets, there are some claims today that this was a Russian airstrike.

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As Jets Kill Civilians At Refugee Camp, Russia Hosts Slick Propaganda Concert In Palmyra

As Russia held a classical concert to celebrate their capture of Palmyra, at least 30 civilians were killed, either by Syrian or Russian air force jets, at a refugee camp near the Turkish border.

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May 06, 2016 21:47 (GMT)

The Russian government is denying this, but it’s going one step further. The Russian Defense Ministry is claiming that there was no airstrike at all, and the attack was the result of shelling, potentially by Jabhat al Nusra, or Al Nusra Front, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. The Russian state propaganda outlet RT reports:

“Considering the fracture pattern, seen in the pictures and videos taken at the site, the camp could have been shelled, either intentionally or by mistake, by rocket artillery, which is in active use in the area by militants from the terror group Al-Nusra Front,” Major-General Igor Konashenkov, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, said on Friday.

He added that after analyzing photographs and video footage from the devastated camp available online, it became evident that “there are no airstrike shell craters or other signs of an airstrike.”

The Russian Defense Ministry states there were no air sorties over the area of the refugee camp on the day of the attack or on the day prior to it.

“We have analyzed airspace objective control data for the area as of May 4 and 5, 2016. There were no flights of Russian or any other aircraft over the camp area,” Konashenkov stressed.

An aid group which is very familiar with the fighting on the ground, the Syrian Civil Defense, claimed right away that this was an airstrike, as did several activist groups. At one point in one of their videos, their cameraman points his camera to the sky, presumably to film a jet flying over heard. What may be a jet contrail can indeed be seen right before a new explosion occurs, but the video is inconclusive as no jet can be seen and the wind makes it hard to hear:

A screenshot from the video of a possible jet contrail:

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2016-05-06 18:02:07

The well-known camp near the border with Turkey is in very open terrain, far from the fighting. It’s hard to imagine that it was struck by accident.

James Miller

Syrian Activists Fear Blood Bath In Hama As Assad Forces Storm Prison
As outrage spread about the Syrian regime’s bombing campaign against civilian targets in Aleppo, including hospitals, the prisoners locked away in Hama have mutinied out of fear that they could all be executed. 

Prisoners riot over claims President Assad is about to start torturing and executing them

Inmates in Syria's besieged Hama prison have shared pictures which appear to show armed soldiers surrounding the jail.
 On Monday, a monitoring group reported that government troops had fired tear gas into the prison in the west of the country after inmates revolted and seized several guards.

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May 06, 2016 21:07 (GMT)

Today there are reports that the prison is being stormed by Assad forces. 
A reverse-image search of these pictures suggests that they are new.

According to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCCS), 800 prisoners are housed at that location and security has surrounded the building for several days.

James Miller

As Jets Kill At Least 30 Civilians At Refugee Camp, Russia Hosts Slick Propaganda Concert In Palmyra

The Kremlin and Assad regimes staged a propaganda spectacular last night in the recently recaptured ruins of Aleppo, throwing a concert by the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra while, to the north, dozens of civilians were killed at a refugee camp by Syrian or Russian jets.

According to the Syrian Local Coordination Committees (LCC), more than 30 civilians were killed and dozens wounded in the attack on the Kamouna camp, outside the town of Samard, west of Aleppo city near the Turkish border.

The camp lies next to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing to the Turkish town of Reyhanli. This is the only route left out of rebel-held Aleppo to the Turkish border since regime-allied forces cut off the route to the north through Azaz earlier this year.

It is still uncertain whether it was the Russian or Syrian Arab Air Force that carried out the attack, though the LCC reports that the aircraft were believed at the time to be Russian.

Idlib Civil Defense (White Helmets) reported however, that there had been a follow-up strike as rescuers worked in the camp. This tactic has been used on multiple occasions in Syria by the Russian Air Force.

Civil Defense video from yesterday’s attack:

Graphic footage below:

Meanwhile the concert in Palmyra, conducted by Valery Gergiev, principle conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and a fervent supporter of President Vladimir Putin, was broadcast live by Russian state media and carried by media organisations around the world.

The narrative of the slick, well-calculated performance, which also featured cellist Sergei Roldugin, yes he of Panama Papers fame, was clear. 

Here was the triumph of ‘civilisation’ over ‘barbarism.’ A shrewd move to maximise the propaganda boon after leading the retaking of the city whose ancient ruins had been vandalised by ISIS.

The British foreign minister, Philip Hammond, described the performance, against the backdrop of the massacre near the Turkish border, as “tasteless.”

“Reports of the bombing of a refugee camp in Samarda this evening are horrifying. The Asad Regime’s contempt for efforts to restore the cessation of hostilities in Syria is clear for all to see.

This attack took place against the backdrop of a concert in Palmyra, a tasteless attempt to distract attention from the continued suffering of millions of Syrians. It shows that there are no depths to which the regime will not sink. It is time for those with influence over Asad to say enough is enough.”

But the Russian embassy in London has stuck firmly and explicitly to the narrative:

Khaled al-Homsi, an activist who has fled Palmyra, noted the contrast between the presentation of the concert and the conditions of the city’s refugees:
— Pierre Vaux