Photos show devastation of war in Syria, not Gaza and Israel

Much of Gaza has been reduced to rubble in a relentless bombardment by Israel since war broke out with Hamas militants on October 7. A video watched more than a million times on social media, however, has been shared alongside posts that falsely claim it shows images of the devastation in the Palestinian territory. The photos are actually of destruction in Syria at the height of its decade-long civil war. They were posted to Facebook by the owner of a restaurant in the Syrian city of Aleppo between 2014 and 2016.

"Pray for Israel and Palestine... #israel #hamas #palestine," reads a caption with the TikTok video shared on October 21.

The 17-second clip features a series of nine "before and after" photos showing buildings and historical sites that have been damaged or destroyed.

A screenshot showing a 'before and after' comparison in the false TikTok post, taken on October 25, 2023

The video was uploaded two weeks after Palestinian group Hamas launched an unprecedented attack against Israel on October 7, triggering a war that has killed thousands of civilians on both sides.

The attack, the deadliest in Israel's history, saw gunmen storm across the border from Gaza, killing more than 1,400 people and taking at least 230 hostages, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel retaliated with a relentless aerial bombardment that Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry says has killed more than 8,500, two-thirds of them women and children. Tanks and soldiers have also made ground incursions into the Palestinian territory, Israel's military says.

The clip showing destroyed buildings has been viewed more than 1.2 million times on TikTok, Facebook and YouTube with the same claim that it shows damage from the Israel-Hamas conflict.

However, the images actually illustrate the destruction inflicted on the city of Aleppo during Syria's civil war that began in 2011. They have been published by several media outlets around the world.

'Chilling photos'

Reverse image searches by AFP on Google and Russian search engine Yandex led to an article by British newspaper The Independent (archived link).

"Aleppo: Chilling photos show how the ancient city has changed since the Syrian conflict started," reads the headline on this story from 2016.

It says the photos are taken from the Facebook page of Aleppo restaurant Olympia, whose owner has been documenting the ravages of war (archived link).

In the video with the false claim, the word "Olympia" can be seen superimposed in the bottom-right corner of each image.

The eatery can be located on Google Maps here (archived link).

A photo album on Olympia's Facebook page titled "Aleppo (Before - After)" -- in both English and Arabic -- features more than 100 images, including all nine comparisons found in the video with the false claim (archived link).

"128 photos showing what our beloved city of Aleppo was like and what it has become now after the vandalism, destruction, plundering and burning," reads an Arabic-language description.

According to Facebook, the album was created in November 2014 and the last photo was uploaded in December 2016.

Below are three screenshot comparisons between images in the false TikTok post (left) and the originals on the restaurant's Facebook page (right):


Media outlets around the world have showcased the pictures, including publications from the United Arab Emirates, Portugal and China (archived links here, here and here).

Syria's war has left almost 400,000 people dead. Half of the country's pre-war population of 22 million have been forced to flee their homes -- the largest displacement induced by conflict since World War II.

Swathes of Aleppo, previously an economic hub that is considered one of the world's longest continuously inhabited cities, have been levelled. In 1986 the city was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

AFP has debunked other misinformation arising from the Israel-Hamas war here.

Is there content that you would like AFP to fact-check? Get in touch.

Contact us