The insurgent rocket strike on a regime “arms depot” in Homs on Thursday: What was hit? What weapons were used? How many people were killed?
On Thursday, days after their defeat in Khalidiya in Homs, insurgents claimed they struck back at the Syrian military. They asserted that they hit an arms depot in the pro-regime neighborhood of Wadi al-Zahab with high-precision rockets, setting off a fireball after the initial explosions.
Claimed footage of the aftermath of the strikes:
What was hit?
Activists say insurgents targeted a weapons depot where the regime forces were storing arms to use against insurgent-controlled areas of Homs.
Wadi Al-Zahab, at the southern entrance to Homs, is close to army bases and an Air Defense Academy. It is a good location to store weapons that could be moved when needed by regime soldiers fighting in other areas of Homs.
Wikimapia (screenshots below) shows a phosphate processing plant and an army depot just south and southwest of the residential district of Al Wa’er — though it is not possible to verify the accuracy of the map.
Activist @samersniper said that Wadi Al-Zahab contained the National Defense Forces headquarters.
State media on Friday played down the attack with no reference to a weapons depot in Wadi Al-Zahab. Instead, State news agency SANA claimed that activists’ reports of the incident were a publicity stunt to raise morale.
SANA cites an “official source”: “Those reports broadcast by channels, which are partners in the Syrian bloodshed, are categorically untrue and aim at raising the morale of the armed terrorist groups after the big losses they inflicted in many regions of Homs, particularly in al-Khaldiye.”
A second extended clip of the aftermath of the explosion, showing damage and attending ambulances as people mill about:
What weapons were used? And how many>
This footage, which appears to be a speeded-up image after the initial explosions, appears to show multiple rockets.
The multiple strikes match the testimony of an official at the governor’s office in Homs, who said about 10 rockets hit the neighborhood, including a “sports stadium”, sparking a large fire and wounding at least 130 people.
Reuters claimed from a source that the rockets used were Grads, but an EA correspondent, with excellent contacts inside Syria, said the rockets were high-precision rather than the notoriously inaccurate Grads. The footage appears to support this claim.
There has been some discussion, including among EA staff, about the fireball in the initial, dramatic images that circulated on the Internet:
So what caused the fireball? One of the strikes? A secondary, large explosion of munitions set off by fire? Something larger exploding? Was it even “authentic”, rather than super-imposed on the video?
An EA correspondent, reviewing information from sources, writes: “The fireball was the [explosion of the] fuel depot. This was a coordinated attack: Free Syrian Army units also used other (smaller) rockets and mortars at the same time as distraction operations.”
How many people were killed?
There are conflicting reports of casualties.
State media played down reports of civilian dead and injured, possibly because the attack occurred in a regime-controlled area and any reportwould undermine the regime’s claim of authority and its ability to defeat the insurgency. The regime did not mention any military casualties — unsurprisingly, since Damascus has not admitted a military facility in the area.
SANA reports that four people died in the attack — not at the scene, but after being taken to hospital — and that tens of others were injured.
Activists also say there were few civilian casualties because the attack was a precision attack on a specific facility. If the map shown above is accurate, the apparent location of the weapons depot is at a distance from the densely-packed residential neighborhood, so it is likely that a well-targeted strike would result in few casualties.
Activists also said that pro-Assad militias around the arms depot were killed in the attack. Activist @samersniper reports on Thursday:
FSA missiles hit the headquarters of the national defense forces the pro-regime neighborhood of Wadi AlDahab that is stuffed with regime thugs. A massive explosion took place in the ammo depot.
The death toll of regime thugs in this operation exceeded any other. More than 183 regime thug were killed and hundreds were wounded. The explosions continued for more than 2 hoursas the ammo and weapons in the depot were on fire.
AP give various reports of casualties but the sources are questionable. The number range from 22 dead, via an unnamed resident who said he spoke to the Syrian Red Crescent, to 60 declared by the UK-based Syrian Observatory For Human Rights).