On Thursday night, the US launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea at the Syrian military airfield in Ash Sha'irat, located about 40 kilometers from the city of Homs. The attack is reported to have left eight troops and nine civilians dead, including four children, and caused major damage to the base itself, destroying its storage depot, a training facility, a cafeteria and a radar station.
US President Donald Trump said that the base was targeted in response to an alleged chemical attack in Idlib Governate by government forces last week. However, neither the US nor its allies have provided any credible evidence that Damascus was responsible for the attack.
Saleh, a longtime resident, remains. Interviewed by a correspondent from Russia's Svobodnaya Pressa online newspaper, the man of roughly forty-five explained that the village had become his home, and that he has no intention of leaving.
In the course of Syria's long war, many of Saleh's family members were either killed or fled the country to Europe. His mother died over a decade ago, before the war started. His father died of cancer in 2013; his condition had deteriorated sharply when the war started, after it became impossible to get the necessary medicines, and difficult to find doctors. Saleh and his friends buried his father outside the village cemetery, worried that even it would come under attack and be desecrated by fighting.
Saleh lives alone in his house, and takes care of an elderly neighbor woman. Before the war he was a modestly successful trader. Now, opportunities for regular employment have dried up. He survives thanks to the humanitarian aid which reaches the area. Ash Sha'irat's residents are hoping a Russian humanitarian convoy will reach their village soon. Local troops insist that Russia will be sure to send one following this week's US cruise missile attack. After all, they say, when the US bombs someone, the Russians will definitely send help to those who have been bombed.
"I was not sleeping when the [attack] started," Saleh explained, talking about Friday morning's events. "I had got up to pray – it was the time of the al-Fajr [the Muslim morning prayer]. I had just finished praying and was going to see my neighbor. It was then that I heard a powerful rumble. I did not see any flashes, but immediately understood that it was a bombing. The sound was coming by echo. This meant that the explosions were not taking place nearby. In an instant, the rumble drew closer, and then further away again. This repeated several times over."
Asked about the local reaction to the news that the US was responsible for the attack, Saleh noted that unfortunately, he wasn't surprised. "We have a lot of military people around! They all say one thing: that the Americans did this bombing. This was what was said on TV too. A few kilometers from us is an airport [the Syrian Armed Forces airbase]. It was the target."
"They say that we were hit accidentally. I don't believe it. We simply don't exist for anyone, and so they do to us whatever they like. They talk about chemical weapons, but if the airbase really stored such weapons, the explosions would have caused the chemicals to spread into the air, and we would all get poisoned here. This is not just a war. It is a genocide of the Syrians."
Asked if he is worried about more attacks, Saleh lamented that unfortunately, this is beyond Syrians' ability to control:
"Everything depends on Russia and America. If the United States wants to kill us, only Russia can stop them. Assad cannot fight by himself against even just the terrorists; America will destroy him. Russia can stop the Americans. It's thanks to Russia that we still have our country. And right now Russia cannot allow America to do what it wants."
Ultimately, Saleh said that he is convinced that Syria's future is crucial to the Russians themselves. "If Syria disappears, no one will reckon with Russia anymore. This would be a blow for such a great power. Therefore, this will not happen. I've already heard that the Russians intend to put new military equipment in Syria that can provide security. That's good. Recently, our mayor met with someone among the military and promised that we will soon get a shipment with everything that's necessary. All of this will be delivered from Russia."
"Many people are trying to leave, but there is nowhere to run. It's not possible to go inland – these areas are controlled by terrorists and the so-called opposition, who don't take kindly to those who are loyal to Assad. And on the territories officially controlled by Damascus, it's become unsafe to move too, since the US now seems intent on fighting Assad. We simply have nowhere to go…"