Middle East

Children worst hit by air strike in Syria's Aleppo

Civilians walk near a destroyed building after a Syrian Air Force fighter jet launched a bomb in the city of Aleppo September 3, 2012. (REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal)

ALEPPO, Syria: The bodies of seven children lie under fly-ridden blankets in the back of a yellow pick-up outside an Aleppo hospital, the latest victims of government air strikes on Syria's second city.

"This is all one family," says tailor Hassan Dalati, who survived the raid on Al-Sultan street in the heart of the city of 2.7 million people.

A distraught cousin of those killed describes what happened: "The jet bombed at 6:00 am when we were sleeping... I started looking for the children but they were all dead."

The corpse of the children's father, identified as Fawaz Hajju, rested on the pavement outside the hospital along that of an eighth child who was killed in the same morning flash.

"So many children, it is a massacre," says a teary nurse in Aleppo city who is more than fed up with counting civilian casualties. The day's tally included yet another child, a boy killed by shelling.

It is not long before fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army arrive on the scene carrying the lifeless body of the mother retrieved from the family's shattered home.

Two trucks ferry the remains to a cemetery in the east of the city for burial. A column of cars trails behind them. Aleppo's collective anger is unleashed in quick salvos of gunfire and shouts of "Allahu akbar (God is greatest)."

The 10 bloodied bundles are buried quickly and unceremoniously in freshly dug graves. Men monitor the skies throughout the process in fear that a gathering of dozens of people could draw a new attack.

Nearby, in Al-Bab, an air strike killed at least nine people and wounded 17, with more unaccounted for beneath the rubble of levelled homes, doctors and residents say.

The dawn air strike followed repeated overflights by military aircraft during the night, the residents say.

"We were sleeping at home when the first bomb struck. I made a run for the door when a second blast buried me," says a barely conscious survivor, peppered with shrapnel from head to foot.

"My mother, father, grandmother and sister were killed," he says, fighting back the tears.

Two of his brothers, one a teenager, the other a barely breathing toddler, lie near him in a small hospital on the outskirts of Aleppo.

Doctors said that nine people, including four women, were killed in the air raid. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which draws on activist reports from the ground, put the death toll at 18.

Neighbours and relatives frantically combed the rubble of one of the worst hit houses in the shadow of a crane lifting massive slabs of concrete out of their way.

"We are trying to find a family of four under here," says Omar Sidi, one of the neighbours, who stops to catch his breath and wipe off sweat.

It was the third air strike in as many days on Al-Bab, a town the rebel Free Syrian Army seized in late July along with large swathes of Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital.

The army has since been pounding rebel positions in and around the city in what commanders had warned would be "the mother of all battles".

Aleppo lies less than 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the border with Turkey where the rebels have rear bases, and is regarded as a strategic prize.





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