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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Russia attacks 'on ISIL' destroyed Syrian family's olive tree farm

'Living in fear of being targeted by those who claim [they are fighting a] war on terror has become part of the daily life of these Syrian villagers,' said Yaser Shehada who's family farm and home in Hama was destroyed

Syrian activist Yaser Shehada said the Russian navy destroyed his family's olive tree farm in the village of Akirbat in the province of Hama on June 22, 2017. But the Russian claimed they had targeted an ISIL base instead. Photo courtesy Yasser family
Syrian activist Yaser Shehada said the Russian navy destroyed his family's olive tree farm in the village of Akirbat in the province of Hama on June 22, 2017. But the Russian claimed they had targeted an ISIL base instead. Photo courtesy Yasser family

Russia and the Assad regime claim to have intensified air and sea attacks on ISIL targets in Syria, but activists say some of those assaults were on civilian areas.

In one such instance, the Russian defence ministry broadcast footage on YouTube on June 22 that it said showed Kalibr cruise missiles being launched from a Russian warship in the Mediterranean Sea at an ISIL base.

But a Syrian activist posted on Facebook another video he said was of the same attack, saying it had in fact destroyed his family's home and much of their olive tree farm. The 30-acre farm is located in the village of Akirbat in an eastern rural part of Hama province, Yaser Shehada said in his post, which included pictures of the destruction from the farm.

A resident of Akirbat was killed and another injured in the June 22 attack, said the 31-year-old civil engineer.

Mr Shehada told The National he was shocked when he saw the Russian broadcast, and fears that more innocent people such as his own family members might get killed in these random attacks.

But despite this, he said he was determined to reveal the truth.

“Seeing my father’s life saving that was invested in the house and farm blown completely in the air was so painful to watch,” he said.

According to Mr Shehada, his farm and the surrounding area has no ISIL presence, although the extremist group is close by.

The farm's main building, which was destroyed in the attack, had been sheltering several families displaced by fighting, he said, but fortunately no one was home at the time. The two civilians caught up in the incident were far from the building when it was hit but were struck by flying shrapnel, causing the death of one of them.

According to Mr Shehada, the nearest ISIL base is at least 12 kilometres away from where the cruise missiles hit. But the attack that destroyed most of his farm was not the first to hit civilians in the Akirbat area.

Local residents say that in the last three months, Russian missiles have been regularly striking civilian homes, chicken farms and other businesses.

Myassar, who lives in the village of Hamada-Omar, close to Akirbat, said his house was also destroyed in a Russian air strike.

“They are randomly targeting [civilian] populated areas and then claim that they are targeting ISIS. That what's been happening to us for a long time now," said Myassar, 40, who //gave changed his name to protect his identity.

“The Syrian regime killed my father in the name of fighting terrorism, and now the world is killing us under the same justification,” he said adding that his father had been killed in one of the Syrian regime air raids in 2015.

Since 2015, Mr Shehada has been collecting details of those killed by Russian and Syrian government strikes in the area for a Turkey-based humanitarian group, Amal human rights organisation. He said none of the dead were ISIL members.

“The ISIS stronghold in the area is easy to spot and cannot be missed from afar,” he added.

“Living in fear of being targeted by those who claim [they are fighting a] war on terror has become part of the daily life of these Syrian villagers."

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