Exclusive to The Middle East Online
Edited by Nelly Tawil
43 people are dead after a fierce government bombardment on a opposition-controlled Syrian town, casualties included children and medical staff according to a monitoring group.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the airstrike and shelling lasted for hours on Saturday, striking Jayrud, a town situated 60 kilometers north-east of Damascus.
The bombardment began after an incident on Friday when Syrian armed forces said Islamist militants killed a government pilot when he was forced to eject from his plane. The attack on the Jayrud was the first time after two years.
“The pilot managed to eject himself. He was captured but subsequently killed and after his death, the Syrian army promised retaliation and that is exactly what happened.”
A rebel spokesman also said the strikes seemed to be in revenge for the pilot’s killing.
“The strikes against civilians are in retaliation against the execution of the pilot by Nusra Front,” Said Seif al Qalamoni from the Free Syrian Army’s Shahid Ahmad Abdo brigade, which operates in Jayrud alongside al-Nusra Front and other groups, told Reuters news agency.
Observatory head Rami Adbel Rahman said two medics were among the dead, as well as women and children.
The military swore that the attack on its pilot would “not go unpunished”, in a statement.
Early on Sunday, Abdel Rahman said prominent figures in Jayrud had reached an agreement with government officials “that the [rebel] fighters would leave the town in exchange for the pilot’s body being handed over”.
The bases around the town were emptied of their rebels during the night according to a Facebook page run by Jayrud activists that publish news about the town.
Anti-regime factions in Jayrud include the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), the hardline Ahrar al-Sham, and Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
A truce between the regime and local representatives had kept the town calm for over two years.
Dozens of similar agreements have been brokered among the myriad of armed groups fighting in Syria’s complex war.