Daraa – Enab Baladi
The “Flying Elephant” is neither the title of a fairy tale nor a scene from a cartoon. It is a reality that Daraa is living through almost every day. It is the latest destructive weapon being tested on residential neighborhoods and civilian homes.
The Elephant’s Trumpet or Assad’s Roar?
For more than a year, the neighborhoods of Daraa under opposition control, namely the city center, Tareeq al-Sadd neighborhood and the camps, have become the landing ground for dozens of locally-made heavy missiles known as “Feel” (Elephant) missiles. The name refers to the sound the missile makes when launched, which is similar to an elephant’s trumpet. This type of missile is also known as “the Assad roar” among Assad’s forces.
The missile is around four meters long and is launched from a moving vehicle that carries a launch pad able to contain up to four missiles. The missile can cover a maximum distance of 1.5 kilometers when launched, which explains its frequent use against the neighborhoods controlled by the Syrian opposition in Daraa, which are only a few meters away from the neighborhoods controlled by Assad’s forces, unlike in other cities under the control of the Syrian opposition.
The “elephant” missile is characterized by its highly destructive force that exceeds that of explosive barrel bombs thrown from helicopters. Moreover, it is cheaper when compared to the cost of the flights needed to launch the explosive barrels. This explains why Assad’s forces have turned to it as an alternative to explosive barrel bombs, in order to reduce their costs.
Counting the seconds
“Totally powerless, just counting the seconds”. This is how Abu Mohammed al-Msalama, a resident of Daraa, described the first moments that follow the launch of the “Feel” missile towards opposition-held areas in Daraa.
He told Enab Baladi, “Our houses shake each time these missiles are launched and you have no more than 15 seconds to hide.”
The few seconds between the missile’s launch and its landing are not enough to allow residents to find a safe place to hide. As a result, most find themselves with no choice but to simply wait. Abu Mohammed says, “Those moments are indescribable. You Feel like you’ve lost all your senses, except for your hearing. You wait to hear the sound of the explosion, which might be the last sound you might hear in this world.”
Opposition groups try to warn residents before each bombing by intensifying their monitoring operations to try to identify any car carrying the missiles and activating the warning sirens to warn residents. However, Assad’s forces are still able to launch sudden missile attacks, without the opposition managing to detect their timing.
The element of surprise is considered one of the strengths of this type of missile compared to explosive barrel bombs. In the last few years, opposition groups have been able to monitor the moves of regime planes and helicopters, giving them enough time to warn residents to take safety measures against the potential raids.
Residents flee to surrounding plains
Thousands of residents of opposition-held neighborhoods have fled towards the plains surrounding the city of Daraa in an attempt to escape from the “Feel” missiles.
Ahmed al-Swaidan, a resident of the Tareeq al-Sadd neighborhood, fled with his family to the neighboring plains after his house was destroyed by a “Feel” missile. He said, “The neighboring plains have been transformed into large residential complexes, with thousands of residents. Despite the fact that the missiles can still reach us in this area, it is still better than the continuous bombing inside the city.”
Al-Swaidan described what had happened to his house when it was targeted by the missile, “We were outside the house when the bombing happened. Although the missile didn’t fall on the house directly but close to it, it was completely destroyed. All the walls have collapsed, and none of the contents were left in one piece.”
The frequency of the bombing of opposition-held neighborhoods by “Feel” missiles rises and falls, depending on the level of military escalation in these areas.
Local activists have documented the targeting of Daraa’s neighborhoods, the Tareeq al-Sadd neighborhood and the camps. Over 50 missiles were launched on these areas in the last three months of 2016, while the number fell after the announcement of a truce between the opposition and Assad’s forces at the beginning of this year.
However, the attacks rapidly increased again with rumors of an anticipated battle in Daraa, leading the Assad forces to target the city’s neighborhoods with more than 5 “Feel” missiles during the first few days of this month.
The opposition-held neighborhoods of Daraa are still caught in a vicious cycle of bombings using various types of missiles. Indeed, this area of Daraa province may be the only one that has been on the receiving end of all types of missiles and bombings on a daily basis. The various truces have all failed to put an end to the bombings for more than a few days. Each time the bombing returns, from small mortar shells and tank shells through to the “Feel” missiles, leaving the area’s residents wondering when it will all come to an end.