Syrian regime forces continue to target farmers working in their fields near the front lines with opposition forces in the Idlib governorate. Over the past two months, regime attacks with shells, guided missiles and armoured drones have killed several farmers and have temporarily displaced farmers from the area, preventing them from harvesting their winter crops.
On November 30, a group of regime soldiers stationed in the town of Joreen in western Hama targeted an agricultural vehicle parked on the Qarqour-Frikeh road in the Ghab Plain in the west part of the Idlib governorate. The vehicle owners sowed their land with winter crops such as wheat, barley and legumes. The shelling destroyed the vehicle and left the farmers afraid to work on the land and its surroundings for fear of repeated shelling.
The towns of Qarqour and Frikeh are among the areas controlled by the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), affiliated with the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) extremist Islamic group. It has become customary for regime forces stationed in the Joreen camp of the Sixth Division, at this time of year, to shell opposition-held agricultural areas near the front lines in Al-Ghab to remind farmers of the need to pay a kind of mandatory tax to allow them to continue working.
The shelling this season seems different, according to a local correspondent for The Syria Report, who said that the recent bombardment is part of a more organised campaign adopted by the regime forces targeting civilians in opposition areas.
Ahmed Yazigi, a member of the Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets) executive board, told The Syria Report that from the beginning of 2023 until November 27, they had counted 18 missile attacks on agricultural areas under opposition control in northwestern Syria. These lands are the sole source of livelihood for their owners, hindering their right to benefit from them.
On November 28, a regime attack injured a father and two sons, with one of the sons having his arm amputated. At the moment of the attack, they were in their vehicle parked on their land between the towns of Kateyan and Zardana in eastern Idlib. After the frightened farmers, taking their wounded with them, took refuge in a nearby poultry farm, they were again subjected to shelling with a Cornet missile with a range of up to 8 kilometres, launched by regime forces stationed in a military base on a hill in the town of Kafr Aleppo in western Aleppo, where Iranian forces are also present.
This followed the shelling on November 16 of a bulldozer working on raising an earthen barrier to protect travellers on the Afs-Taftanaz road in eastern Idlib, which the regime forces have been shelling.
Mohammed Al-Qadi, a civilian from the village of Fouqfeen in southern Idlib, explained to The Syria Report the state of panic experienced by the town’s residents following a shelling that killed ten farmers from a single family, including children, while they were harvesting olives on November 25. Despite the olive picking season nearing its end, farmers have been unable to work in their fields since then, fearing they might be targeted again.
Notably, regime forces used advanced Russian Krasnopol (KM-1M Krasnopol-M2) artillery shells, which can be laser-guided or directed via drones, on the private farm in Fouqfeen.
Opposition sources confirmed to The Syria Report that the shelling coincided with the flight of Russian-made Orlan-10 drones. The shells were launched from a military site in the town of Shourlin in the Jebel Shashabo area south of Idlib, controlled by the 25th Special Mission Forces led by Brigadier General Suhail Al-Hassan, also known as “The Tiger,” who is backed by Russia. The sources confirmed that the site is about 10 kilometres from Fouqfeen and often witnesses the presence of Russian forces.
Mr Al-Qadi said that the farm was hit within the Idlib de-escalation zone and less than a kilometre away from the Turkish military point stationed on a hill in the town of Fouqfeen. The presence of this Turkish military point had previously helped reassure displaced residents of the town and residents of some neighbouring towns to return. Most of these residents are families working collectively in agriculture on their lands. The recent shelling caused a mass displacement from the exposed area vulnerable to shelling by regime forces.