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Syria: Drone attack on government military college leaves scores dead

Attack on Homs military college is one of the biggest targeting pro-Assad forces in years
Syrian soldiers carry caskets during the funeral of the victims of a drone attack targeting a Syrian military academy, outside a hospital in government-controlled Homs on October 6, 2023 (AFP)

Scores of people have been killed following a drone attack on a graduation ceremony for government forces in western Syria on Thursday, according to a war monitor. 

The attack targeted the Homs military college and left casualties among civilians and members of the armed forces who were in attendance, according to the state-run Sana news agency.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said at least 123 have been killed, including officers and parents of the graduating students. At least 150 were wounded. 

The Syrian health ministry put the death toll at 89 with 277 more wounded. 

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"Ambulances were seen rushing to the site of the attack to transport the injured officers to the military hospital," SOHR said. 

The group, which monitors the war in Syria, said the ceremony was attended by commanders of the Syrian army and the minister of defence. 

The Syrian military said in a statement that "armed terrorist organisations" carried out the attack "immediately after the ceremony ended". 

It described it as an "unprecedented" attack and vowed to "respond with full force".

A source in Homs told Middle East Eye that three loud sounds, resembling explosions, were heard in the city. They added that roads in the city had been closed and that authorities were on high security alert.

Another source in Homs told MEE that in the three days of preparation for the ceremony, there was live ammunition training which caused confusion when an actual attack took place. 

"It was not clear what exactly the sound of the recent attacks was, because it is a series of explosions that you can actually hear throughout the city. We felt something abnormal when we heard the sounds of ambulances," the source in Homs said.

Syria's Health Minister Hassan Muhammad al-Ghobash visiting the injured individuals in the aftermath of the attack (SANA/AFP)

Residents in the area have since found ways to limit any potential damage.

"Many residents have begun to take measures in their homes, such as opening windows, leaving doors open, and sitting in the safest areas inside the house in case of any fragments. The sounds are quite similar to the sounds during the battles in Homs."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, the largest targeting forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in years. 

The incident came as Turkey struck military and infrustructure targets in Kurdish-held northeastern Syria Thursday morning, killing at least nine people, Kurdish security forces said.

Turkey warned about a more intense cross-border air raid on Wednesday, after learning that a recent attack in Ankara had come from Syria.

The strikes on Hasakeh province "killed six members of the internal security" forces, a statement from the Kurdish force's media centre said.

Local media reported that a Turkish Bayraktar drone was shot down in Syria near a military base belonging to the US-led international coalition.

Pro-government attack kills civilians

The attack in Homs led to 'artillery and missile bombardment' of rebel-held northwestern Syria, killing five people in different parts of Idlib province, and wounding 38 others, according to the Civil Defense.

Elsewhere in Syria's northwest, opposition-held areas have seen renewed shelling by government forces in recent days.

On Wednesday, bombing by forces loyal to Assad killed five members of the same family in the Kafr Nouran area on the western outskirts of Aleppo province, activists in the area told MEE. 

“The poor family used to consider the place where they were killed to be a safe haven, despite its danger and its proximity to the front lines,” Ahmed Rahhal, a media activist from rebel-held Idlib in northwest Syria, who was at the site of the attack, told MEE. 

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He said that an elderly woman and four of her children were killed. The woman's grandchildren, who were on the other side of the house, survived, according to Rahhal.

Sameh Fakhoury, a member of the White Helmets civil defence team, told MEE that he arrived at the scene of the attack shortly after the bombing. 

“We did what we could. We transported the victims to the surrounding hospitals, and the survivors to where their relatives lived around the area,” Fakhoury said. 

The attack comes a day after missile attacks killed a girl and wounded six others, including a baby girl, in the village of Sarmin, east of Idlib, according to the White Helmets.

“Both of the targeted places in the suburbs of Aleppo and Idlib are very dangerous, especially in the suburbs of Aleppo, where continuous military movements and fortifications by both sides were monitored,” Abu Satif al-Khattabi, a war observer stationed in northern Syria, told MEE. 

About 55 civilians, including 12 children, were killed last month as a result of ongoing violence, a monthly report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) found. 

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in Syria since civil war broke out in 2011, while millions have been displaced.

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