Funerals held in Syria for dozens of victims of attack on military ceremony

Family members of some of the victims of a deadly drone attack on a crowded military graduation ceremony gathered outside a military hospital in the city of Homs on Friday to collect the bodies of their loved ones.

Thursday’s strike on the Homs Military Academy killed 89 people, including 31 women and five children, and wounded as many as 277, according to the health ministry.

The death toll could rise as some of the wounded are in a critical condition.

Syria announced a three-day state of mourning starting on Friday.

Relatives of the victims who were killed on Thursday in a drone attack mourn during a mass funeral procession in Homs, Syria (Abdelrahman Shaheen/AP/PA)

No group immediately claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack as Syria endures its 13th year of conflict that has killed half a million people.

In the aftermath, Syrian government forces intensified their shelling and airstrikes on rebel-held regions and insurgents fired back towards areas held by President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Around noon on Friday, the Syrian military fired machine guns toward another drone that flew over the central city of Homs, two pro-government media outlets, Al-Watan and Sham FM, reported. It was not immediately clear if the drone was shot down.

The city of Homs is about 100km (60 miles) south of rebel-held areas, indicating that insurgents might have acquired weaponised long-range drones.

Fearing retaliation from the government, religious authorities in areas held by the opposition in northern Syria said Friday prayers will not be held in mosques and called on people to pray at home instead “out of concern for the safety of Muslims”.

Syria’s military said in a statement on Thursday that drones laden with explosives targeted the ceremony packed with young officers and their families as it was ending.

Without naming any particular group, the military accused insurgents “backed by known international forces” for the attack and said “it will respond with full force and decisiveness to these terrorist organisations, wherever they exist”.

Overnight, Syrian troops pounded the last major rebel-held region in parts of Idlib and Aleppo provinces, killing at least three people and wounding more than 15 in the town of Daret Azeh, according to the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defence, also known as White Helmets.

The group reported that a child was killed in another strike in a village in the region.

Syrian Lt Ibrahim Shaaban kisses the coffin of his fiancee Raneem Quba (Albert Aji/AP/PA)

The area is a stronghold of the Turkistan Islamic Party, a Uyghur militant group, many of whose fighters are Chinese Muslims.

In Homs, hundreds of people, many of them dressed in black and weeping, gathered outside the Abdul-Qader Shaqfa Military Hospital where the bodies of 30 victims in coffins draped with Syrian flags were put in ambulances to be taken to their home towns for burial.

Army Lt Ibrahim Shaaban came to collect the body of his fiancee, Raneem Quba, 23, who was killed along with her father, Mohammed, and younger sister, Rima, while attending the graduation of her brother, Lt Hussein Quba.

“I feel that my back was broken,” Mr Shaaban said. “She was not only a fiancee, but a mother, a sister and a friend.”

Syrian Defence Minister General Ali Abbas was present on Friday outside the hospital, where he comforted the families of victims. An opposition war monitor reported Thursday that Mr Abbas had left the graduation ceremony shortly before the attack.

“We will go after them and after those who support them,” Mr Abbas said of the insurgents. “We will avenge the blood of martyrs and clean Syria’s soil from terrorists and criminals.”

One of the survivors, Lt Jaafar Mohammed, 23, said he was taking photos with relatives by the platform when something suddenly exploded in front of them.

“I was thrown to the ground,” said Mr Mohammed, who suffered an arm injury. He said his brother was killed and his father and younger brother were also injured.

Syria’s crisis started with peaceful protests against Mr Assad’s government in March 2011 but quickly morphed into a full-blown civil war after the government’s brutal crackdown on the protesters.

In 2015, when Russia provided key military backing to Syria, as well as Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

– Advertisement –
– Advertisement –