A refugee camp in Syria near the Turkish border was hit by shelling on Saturday, causing a fire to break out and displacing residents who had already fled violence elsewhere in the country.
The camp, located in the northeastern part of the Latakia governorate, was hit by more than 40 missiles, according to activist Ammar Ibrahim, who shared video footage of the attack that showed smoke rising from several fires. Ibrahim said many people were injured, but so far there have been no reports of casualties.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights alleged that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were responsible for the attack. Other independent reports claimed that Russian forces, acting on behalf of the Assad regime, were to blame. Both Syrian government and Russian contingents have been intensifying their operations in the region in a bid to reclaim land from rebels in the northern part of Latakia.
Tensions along Turkey's border with Syria have been steadily escalating since November, when Turkish fighter jets downed a Russian warplane that allegedly violated Turkish airspace. On Saturday, Turkey accused another Russian military plane of violating its airspace, a claim the Russians denied. The strained relations have made shelling in the border region increasingly sensitive and symbolic.
The northern parts of Latakia are traditionally populated by Turkmen — ethnic Turks who have inhabited certain regions of Syria, Iraq and Iran since the 11th century. The Turkmen are vehemently anti-Assad and supported by Turkey.
Last week, pro-Assad troops backed by Russian airstrikes reclaimed strategic territory from rebels in Latakia.
"The Russian airstrikes for more than a month had intensified to a horrific extent and they were bombing all the frontlines that we are on," Nasser al-Turkmani, a spokesperson for the opposition's Turkmen-Syrian Council told The Guardian. "We had to withdraw from the area because it would have been suicide to stay. The destruction cannot be described, even the trees have been burned as a result of this scorched earth policy."
Earlier this month, Assad's forces also reclaimed Salma, an opposition stronghold close to the Turkish border. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated that Russian and Syrian warplanes conducted more than 500 air raids in a two-week span in January as part of their ongoing offensive in northern Latakia
According to a 2014 report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Latakia governorate has hosted more than 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) . Approximately two-thirds of the IDPs reside in the port city of Latakia, the provincial capital, which is a stronghold of the Assad regime and the president's Alawite sect. The rest of the IDPs are scattered in camps across the countryside.
The incident on Saturday isn't the first time that a refugee camp in Latakia has come under attack. In 2011, more than 5,000 Palestinians fled the city of Latakia after Assad's forces attacked the camp with gunboats and ground troops in an effort to crackdown on dissenting factions.
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