Middle East

Residents know death could come at any moment as planes circle Al-Bab

Syrian men sift through rubble in the city of Al-Bab.

AL-BAB, Syria: Shrapnel peppers the blood-splattered walls of the Al-Bab home where two bombs dropped from a Syrian warplane in the middle of the night wiped out Abu Nasser’s family.

Regime planes bombarded the Birar district of the rebel-controlled town, 35 kilometers northeast of Syria’s second city Aleppo, killing 12 civilians and wounding around 60 others Friday night.

“I lost my daughter, her husband, two cousins ... Three other family members are in hospital. They’re so seriously wounded I don’t think they’ll survive,” the 41-year-old man said with tearful eyes.

“When the MiGs flew in at around 4 p.m., we fled to the countryside to hide among the olive groves. But my daughter and her husband didn’t want to come. They hid in the sewing shop, thinking they were safe.”

The building is gutted inside out.

Tables are strewn across the room in pieces, blood sprayed across a partition wall. The house next door, built from old stone, is reduced to rubble that lies outside blocking the alley.

Two motorbikes have been mangled, their handlebars twisted, seats melted, engines pierced by shrapnel.

Neighbors come to see what happened as curious passers-by slow down to watch as people sweep up and dig to shift the rubble. Water drips from the balconies, a result of the shrapnel penetrating tanks perched on the roofs.

“The MiGs circled tighter and tighter above our heads. We knew they would strike nearby. People had time to flee,” Abu Nasser said.

He and his family jumped into the car to hide among olive trees in the surrounding countryside. They spent the night there with thousands of others listening to the bombardment.

“The poorer people have no cars. They stay in their homes and pray to God,” he said.

At daybreak the planes flew off and Birar’s residents came back to inspect the damage and bury the dead.

Mustafa Tamro, a 39-year-old who taught English for several years in the UAE, lives in a nearby street.

“I guess the target was the school,” Mustafa said. “They hate all the people here ... everyone who supports the revolution. It’s collective punishment.”

“The planes come every day. Sometimes they bomb, sometimes not. They come to terrorize us. At night, it’s terrible. We can’t see the planes, just hear them,” he added.

The school next door, Hailma Saadia, was hit by three bombs.

One caused two floors to collapse on top of each other, another ripped out the surrounding wall and the third left an enormous crater in the courtyard six meters across and two deep.

Free Syrian Army rebels had set up positions in schools at the start of the uprising, but soon discovered these were easy targets, moving on to better-hidden locations.

There was not a single rebel or armed inhabitant in Birar Saturday morning. “The FSA was here two months ago, but they left,” said a neighbor who refused to be identified.

Suddenly a warplane appeared in the sky and began circling above Al-Bab.

People looked up. Motorists did not know where to go. They put on the brakes and got out of their vehicles to see for themselves.

Some sheltered next to walls, others under trees. After three high-altitude swoops and without opening fire, the plane vanished to the west, towards Aleppo airport.

A fighter dropped two bombs Sunday, targeting the headquarters in the town of an FSA chief, Sheikh Omar, and spraying nearby streets with heavy machinegun fire, an AFP correspondent said.

The rebels said one fighter was slightly injured, as most of them had evacuated the premises once the approaching aircraft was heard in the sky. Residents nearby rushed to underground shelters and staircases.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 17, 2012, on page 8.




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