A video published by pro-government media outlets in recent days appears to show live ammunition being fired at homes in the rural southern part of Aleppo governorate belonging to displaced people. The homes were reportedly converted into artillery, missile, and aerial practice targets under Russian military supervision.
According to a correspondent for The Syria Report, the exercises took place in mid-March, in the villages of Serdah and Umm Mayal, in the far southeastern reaches of Aleppo governorate. The villages belong administratively to the Khanasser district, on a flat plain surrounded by mountainous heights, which make the area ideal for military exercises.
Serdah and Umm Mayal were once home to around 1,200 people from the Albu Hamad tribe. Most residents were loyal to the regime. Since 2012, residents have fled the two villages, as well as the surrounding area, with the Islamic State seizing control in 2013. Most of the displaced people have since resided in regime-held areas, especially in the towns of Maskaneh and Al-Safireh east of Aleppo city.
Homes in the two villages were constructed of mud, most of them in the shape of domes — the typical architectural style of farmers and peasants along the Euphrates River. More than 100 of the homes were completely destroyed as regime forces battled to recapture the area in 2018.
In this month’s military exercises, Russian forces reportedly used warplanes and helicopters to simulate destroying armour and providing support to infantry. After destroying the villages’ remaining homes, troops then practiced combat on the ground.
Serdah and Umm Mayal are surrounded by fields of grain. The Katerji Militia, affiliated with Syrian businessman Hussam Katerji, captured the area, and converted it into a military zone. Civilians are banned from entering. There is also an Iranian military base nearby, on Al-Shabeith Mountain.
Source: Still from video of the military exercises