Overnight and into Friday the Syrian Army pummeled Idlib province with artillery and missiles, in retaliation for a Thursday drone attack conducted by the region's al-Qaeda groups which scored a direct hit on a crowded military graduation ceremony at Homs military college.
Syria's health ministry in the immediate aftermath said the drone attack killed 80 people and wounded 240 more. Al Jazeera and other regional sources have cited over 100 dead, which included military officers and their family members. At least six children were among the deceased, in what may be the single deadliest terror attack inside Syria in years.
Multiple videos later circulated of major counterattacks by Syrian forces on al-Qaeda occupied Idlib, in a rare large assault.
Various hardline jihadist groups have held Idlib since 2015, at which time they were helped in the takeover by the United States and its allies, in an operation directed out of southern Turkey.
A Syrian military statement alluded to insurgents having received help from "international forces" in the past:
Syria’s military said in an earlier statement that drones laden with explosives targeted the ceremony packed with young officers and their families as it was wrapping up. Without naming any particular group, the military accused insurgents "backed by known international forces" of the attack and said "it will respond with full force and decisiveness to these terrorist organizations, wherever they exist."
NATO member Turkey continues to be a main backer of the jihadist insurgents who hold Idlib province.
More than 100 people were killed in a drone attack on the Syrian government military college in the western city of Homs on Thursday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitor pic.twitter.com/W1Lbqr63xz— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) October 6, 2023
Regional sources have said Syrian had help from Russia allied forces in pounding Idlib, which is ongoing into Friday. "Airstrikes pounded the positions of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) and the Emigrants Brigade, foreign extremist militias consisting of Chinese Uyghur and Chechen militants," wrote The Cradle.
"Syrian fighter jets, in coordination with the Russian air force, targeted the Al-Ghab plain and the town of Areeha in the Idlib governorate, as well as the city of Jisr al-Shughour – which fell to US-backed extremist groups in 2015," the publication added.
BREAKING 🚨— Kevork Almassian🇸🇾🇦🇲 (@KevorkAlmassian) October 5, 2023
The Syrian Army retaliated strongly on the positions of the Al-Qaeda terrorists in southern Idlib, from which the UAV attack that murdered over 60 cadets and civilians came. pic.twitter.com/RnTWJk5nP6
It is believed that the TIP and Emigrants Brigade "are the two armed groups that have the technological capabilities to conduct drone attacks"; however, Damascus didn't name a specific group as being behind the devastating drone attack. In prior years whenever Syrian and Russian forces prepared to retake Idlib province from the armed insurgents, the the United States and its allies have threatened military intervention.