Last week, a massacre was perpetrated against the residents of the Zardna village following a series of concentrated violent Russian and Assad airstrikes, leaving more than 60 civilians dead and wounded. The strikes came amidst agreements and talks between Russia, Iran and Turkey to reach a comprehensive truce at the frontlines of Idlib.
The aforesaid village was targeted despite being away from the most active highways and being close to Fuao and Kurfiyah villages.
The Russian and Assad airstrikes were carried out against pre-selected targets in the village. One of them hit the southern neighborhood that has become known among the locals as ‘the neighborhoods of smugglers’. The village is tiny and is home to less than 7000 people, and has become over the past years as the base for smugglers and commerce between the the factions controlled territory and Fua and Kurriyah. The main factions who have been active over there are HTS, Ahrar Army, and Ahrar Al-Sham.
The factions are responsible for securing the road and protection of the smuggling convoys to the two towns. Each smuggling operation takes place separately and within a new agreement between the parties. For this reason, the village has become a neutral area isolated from conflicts and attacks for all parties. It may be one of the important points of the agreements between the parties to the conflict in Syria. The deals that are broked in it are focused on food commodities and basic necessities, and there are no confirmed information whether such deals include light arms and ammunition. According to Ali al-Amin Suweidi, a specialist in monitoring HTS radical activities in Idlib province, these deals are “unconvincing and contradictory to the slogans of all parties. These agreements also increase the prices of purchases by at least ten times, enabling HTS to earn incomes in suspicious and deceptive manners “.
As for the mechanism of the deal, Suweidi tells us: “Mediators from Al-Faoua and Kafriya request goods, and HTS, in turn, sell them the goods ten time the original price. It should be pointed out that the deals between both parties can be reached very easily’.
The massacre that took place in the village of Zardana indicates a sudden change in the relationship between the previously mentioned parties. In the same context, Idlib24 reported clashes between HTS and Jaysh Ahrar in the village, which continued for three days and Assad
Explaining the main reasons that led to the strikes, Suweidi mentioned that ‘There had been a deal between the factions and the mediators of Kufriyah and Fuao to send some food shipment to the two besieged town, but because the transportation process was delayed by some new people who were trying to get a share from the deals. The merchants in the two towns resorted to Assad who, in turn, bombed the village to deter the smugglers from repeating such a behavior.’
By matching the information of Suweidi with the correspondent of Idlib24 in the region, the dispute began after the intervention of Abu Saleh al-Tahan , commander of Jaysh Al-Ahrar, to change the terms of the agreement in the village Zerdna, which was not approved by HTS. The dispute between the two factions escalated to fierce clashes, which blocked the transportation of food materials and other basic needs to the two besieged towns. As a result, Assad and Russian bombed the village, killing 44 civilians and wounding 60 other. The raids extended to include other areas where the Free Army, such as the city of Jericho and the town of Taftnaz and some other villages in the region.
In turn, Russia denied responsibility for the massacre through an official statement of the Ministry of Defense, and asked the Secretary-General of the United Nations Guterich to open an urgent investigation to find out what actually happened in Idlib.