Syrian regime mourns dead after drone attack on Homs military academy

Syrian regime mourns dead after drone attack on Homs military academy
The drone strike against the Homs Military Academy is one of the single deadliest strikes against the military since the civil war began.
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The drone attack against the Homs Military Academy killed 89 people according to the regime's health ministry, although the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the figure at above 120 [Getty]

The Syrian regime on Friday held funerals for scores of people killed in a drone attack on a graduation ceremony at a military academy in the Homs region the previous day, one of the bloodiest strikes against the military in more than 12 years of civil war.

Several weaponised drones hit the Homs Military Academy's courtyard where families were gathered with the new officers on Thursday, minutes after Defence Minister Ali Mahmoud Abbas had left. Syria declared three days of mourning.

There have been no claims of responsibility for the attack. Syria's defence and foreign ministries blamed what they described as terrorist groups, without specifying further, and vowed to respond "with full force".

The following day, Syrian regime forces hit towns across opposition Idlib in retaliatory strikes killing civilians.

On Friday morning, coffins carrying victims and draped in the Syrian flag were sent out from the Homs Military Hospital. A military band played somberly and lined up troops gave the salute. At the scene, Abbas said the blood spilled was "precious".

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"My mother was coming to celebrate me, like she was coming to my wedding," said Yasser Mohamed, a new officer who survived the attack - but whose mother did not.

"We were happy, taking pictures, then suddenly... this is such a hard day, and such a huge tragedy," he told Reuters.

Syria's health ministry said 89 people had been killed, including 31 women and five children. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reports on the Syrian conflict, put the toll at above 120.

Throughout the night and into the early morning on Friday, Syrian regime troops blasted artillery shells into rebel-held territory in the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, according to the Observatory and the civil defence group known as the White Helmets, which operate in opposition-held areas.

At least 12 civilians have been killed in that bombardment, according to the Observatory. Authorities have canceled communal Friday prayers, fearing that mosques could be attacked.

Unprecedented Attack

Thursday's strike was an unprecedented use of drones against regime forces in the war, which began with protests against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 and spiraled into a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.

In June, a drone attacked Assad's hometown of Qardaha in the province of Latakia. But Thursday's attack involving a swarm of drones represented the deadliest and most coordinated use of the weapon yet against the regime side.

Syria's rebels have employed home-built drones as early as 2018, including against the coastal Hmeimim airbase where Russia has headquartered its Syria operations, researcher Wim Zwijnenburg told Reuters.

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But with no remnants appearing in footage of the attack, there is little that can be gleaned about the type of drone or its payload, Zwijnenburg said.

Assad has drawn heavily on military backing from Russia, Iran, and Tehran-backed militias during the war, after the Syrian army was rocked by defections early in the conflict. Russia has helped in efforts to strengthen the Syrian military.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences to Assad on Friday, describing the attack as "savage," according to Syrian state news agency SANA.

The Homs Military Academy is one of Syria's oldest and all officers in the ground forces graduate from it. Fresh graduates are seen as an important supply of junior officers, which are severely lacking after more than a decade of brutal war.