Zakharova, the official spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, claimed that Russian experts had concluded, after studying images of the destruction of a school in the rebel-held village of Hass in Syria’s Idlib Province, that not only had no air strike taken place, but that there had not been any casualties at all.
Her claim follows similar remarks by Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, who claimed that Russian drone footage and analysis of open-source video indicated that no bombs had been dropped on the site.
Opposition sources, meanwhile, reported that at least 35 people were killed, 22 of them children, after bombs struck a complex of five schools on the morning of October 26.
Photos and video of the aftermath of the attack were widely distributed, showing several corpses and wounded or traumatized children. Another video shows a child’s severed arm lying among rubble.
Reverse searches indicate that these images were not published online before the date of the attack. Zakharova’s suggestion that the children’s corpses were computer-generated imagery seems patently false.
While it has proved impossible to accurately pinpoint where any of the images of dead children were recorded, there is verifiable video from several sources showing that the site of the attack was indeed a school, given the presence of school desks and text books.
Konashenkov presented what he said was video from a Russian drone that had been dispatched to document the aftermath of the attack.
“As can be seen from the photos taken by the drone, there are no signs of damage to the roof of the school, or craters from air strikes around it,” Konashenkov told Russia media on October 30.
Konashenkov also took aim at photo and video evidence of the reported attack.
“The video published in a range of Western media outlets appears to consist of more than 10 different shots, filmed at different times of the day, and in different resolutions that were edited into a single clip,” continued Konashenkov.
But without a description of the specific video he was referring to, this point is effectively moot as media outlets routinely use edited videos compiled from various sources in order to convey as much information as possible within a limited time frame.
Furthermore, there are multiple videos that record the impact of aerial bombs at the site of the school that can be verified as having been recorded at the same time and place.
These videos show that at least three bombs were dropped on the very area that the Konashenkov identified as the site of the school. One video, consisting of two segments, shows a Russian-made Sukhoi Su-24 bomber maneuvering over Hass and releasing flares. The second segment, which, based on the nearly-identical pattern of shadows, appears to have been recorded very shortly afterwards, shows a plume of smoke from a first impact and a bomb slowly descending before detonating over the approximate area of the school complex.
Another video, filmed closer to the scene of the attack, clearly records the descent of one of the bombs on a parachute.
A third video, filmed from further away, on the eastern outskirts of nearby Kafranbel, records three blasts and the sound of jet engines.
Using this evidence, it can be concluded that an air strike did indeed take place, hitting the very location indicated by the Russian Defense Ministry. Furthermore, the presence of the Su-24 bomber at the time of the attack indicates that either the Russian or Syrian air forces conducted the attack.
Konashenkov also claimed that damage seen in a photo published by Agence France-Presse did not appear to have been caused by an air strike.
However, the fact that parachute-retarded bombs were used may provide an explanation for the pattern of damage seen in the drone footage and the AFP photo.
One of the Russian-made, parachute-retarded munitions used in the Syrian war is the ODAB-500 PM -- a thermobaric bomb.
These weapons spread a mist of fuel on impact, before igniting the mix with the surrounding air used as an oxidizer. The result is an explosion with an extremely powerful blast wave that burns up all available oxygen in an enclosed space. This means that such weapons are best suited to targeting enclosed spaces or built-up areas. They also create relatively little cratering, as their blast is dissipated in the open air.
If such a bomb went off in the open space of the school complex, it would explain the severe lateral damage radius but lack of any central crater.
The Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a group of Russian and Ukrainian investigative bloggers, noted that footage of a thermobaric bomb test broadcast by Russian state television in 2001 produced similar damage to that seen in Hass.
In addition, the CIT described reports from the day of the attack of Syrian Air Force Sukhoi Su-22 bombers operating in the area. That these jets do sometimes operate with parachute-retarded, thermobaric munitions appeared to be confirmed by a tweet from a pro-regime Syrian account, boasting of the redeployment of a Sukhoi Su-22M4 bomber in February . The accompanying photo showed that the jet was armed with six bombs, identified by the CIT as ODAB-500s.
Meanwhile, the pro-opposition Qasioun news agency posted a video on the same morning as the attack that purportedly shows a Russian Air Force jet (either a Sukhoi Su-34 or a Su-30) over Idlib.
Despite the clear fact that an air strike was indeed conducted in Hass by either Russian or Syrian jets, Zakharova has also claimed that any attribution of blame to either party is a “lie.”