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This nightmarish drone footage claims to show scenes from Syria’s civil war

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Most of us will never see Syria's front lines. But on Monday, Russian state TV released a brief clip showing what it claims is HD footage of fighting there, taken by a drone camera hovering overhead:

The video purports to show footage taken in Jobar, an eastern suburb of the capital, Damascus. The Syrian government and rebels have been fighting over Jobar for about two years; the video shows explosions and tanks firing in the middle of bombed-out streets. It is a surreal and hellish scene.

It's not clear who shot all of the video's footage, and the soundtrack of video game–style music definitely raises appropriate skepticism about its authenticity. But Eliot Higgins, founder of the investigative journalism outlet Bellingcat and an expert on scrutinizing footage from Syria, thinks the video is credible.

"It certainly looks like Jobar," Higgins wrote via email. "I've seen similar quality drone footage from elsewhere; looks like they've done a bit of post production with the colouring to make it look nicer."

If the video is authentic, it goes to show just how utterly devastated parts of Syria have been by the war. According to Syria Deeply, Jobar has been almost entirely depopulated by the past two years of intense fighting.

"Jobar is a strategic area as it sits near a roundabout that provides direct access to the center of Damascus and also to Eastern Ghouta, another rebel-held area to the east of the capital," the site explains. "Virtually all of the area’s original inhabitants have fled as fighting between opposition groups and the Syrian army steadily destroyed the suburb."

Looking at the video, it is not difficult to imagine why a family would flee, as so many Syrians have. But it is staggering to think that this used to be, until relatively recently, a normal town with schools and markets and people going about their daily lives.

This sort of destruction is sadly not unusual in Syria: About half of the country's population have been forced out of their homes since the civil war began in 2011. So this footage may show Jobar only, but it's not just about one place: it's representative of the horror that much of modern Syria has become.