Yesterday, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, Islamic State (IS) launched a coordinated attack which killed close to 150 people, involving at least five suicide bombers and two car bombs. One of the most violent attacks of the 5 year long crisis that has killed more than 470,000 people, there are four key things to know about what has just happened.
1. The attacks in Tartous and Jableh are the first of their kind in terms of scale in this region of Syria. These cities are under the control of the Syrian government and have to date escaped the worst of the violence. They constitute a new front in the already complex Syrian conflict.
2. The attacks terrorised cities that were considered “safe” and which serve as the home of Russian forces in Syria. Considering that these areas are far away from areas controlled by IS, the attacks may also be viewed as a challenge to the Russian forces and their unimpeded domination of the military arena.
3. These attacks have come at a time of increasing pressure on IS in both Syria and Iraq. In Syria, recent reports have hinted to the preparation of an attack on the de facto capital of IS in Syria, Raqqa, by the US-backed militia Syrian Democratic Forces. In Iraq, the Iraqi PM announced on Monday the start of a military operation to retake Falluja, one of the main strongholds of IS in Iraq. In spite of the pressure, these attacks show the ability of IS to successfully organize sophisticated and synchronized attacks and take the battleground to new areas.
4. Last, but by no means least, these attacks have targeted ordinary civilians. One of the attacks hit a hospital emergency department and others were struck at a bus station. Tartous is the main destination for displaced people in Syria, sheltering hundreds of thousands of people from all the provinces of Syria, the vast majority of whom are Sunnis who live peacefully in an Alawite dominated area. Such attacks seriously threaten the social fabric of a multicultural Syrian community which is resilient despite the horrors of war. It would seem one of the calculated goals of the Islamic State is to pitch communities against each other and encourage retaliation attacks against the vulnerable displaced people in these areas, pouring salt over the bleeding wounds of Syria.