Azaz, Syria • Syrian fighter jets screamed through the sky Wednesday over this rebel-held town, dropping bombs that leveled the better part of a poor neighborhood and wounded scores of people, many of them women and children buried under piles of rubble. Activists said more than 20 people were killed.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 people died in the double airstrike and more than 200 were wounded. Mohammed Nour, a local activist reached by phone, put the death toll at 25. Neither figure could be independently confirmed.
Reporters from The Associated Press saw nine dead bodies in the bombings’ immediate aftermath, including a baby.
The bombings sent panicked civilians fleeing for cover. So many were wounded that the local hospital locked its doors, directing residents to drive to the nearby Turkish border so the injured could be treated on the other side. One person’s remains were bundled into a small satchel.
A group of young men found a man buried in the wreckage of destroyed homes, his clothes torn and his limbs dirty, but still alive.
"God is great! God is great!" they chanted as they yanked him out and laid him on a blanket.
Nearby, a woman sat on a pile of bricks that once was her home, cradling a dead baby wrapped in a dirty cloth. Two other bodies lay next to her, covered in blankets. She screamed and threw stones at a TV crew that tried to film her.
The bombing of Azaz, some 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Aleppo, shattered the sense of control rebels have sought to project since they took the area from President Bashar Assad’s army last month. Azaz is also the town where rebels have been holding 11 Lebanese Shiites they captured in May.
The attack came on the same day the U.N. released a report accusing Assad’s forces and pro-government militiamen of war crimes during a May bloodbath in the village of Houla that killed more than 100 civilians, nearly half of them children. It said rebels were also responsible for war crimes in at least three other killings.
The long-awaited report by the U.N. Human Rights Council marks the first time the world body has referred to events in Syria as war crimes — on both the government and rebel sides — and could be used in future prosecutions against Assad or others.
It said the scale of the Houla carnage indicated "involvement at the highest levels" of Syria’s military and government. The council also said the conflict is moving in increasingly brutal directions on both sides.
A wide-ranging tableau of violence and retributions on Wednesday reinforced the U.N.’s warnings.
A blast in central Damascus rattled — but did not injure — U.N. observers, followed by the airstrikes in Azaz. And in tense Lebanon, a powerful Shiite clan that backs Assad said it abducted at least 20 Syrians in retaliation for rebels holding one of their relatives captive in Syria. The rebels accuse the Lebanese man of belonging to Hezbollah, a Shiite Lebanese group allied with Syria and Iran.
The bombing of Azaz brought into stark relief the limits of the rebels’ expanding control of Syria’s north.
In recent months, rebels have pushed the Syrian army from a number of towns in a swath of territory south of the Turkish border and north of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. About a dozen destroyed tanks and army vehicles are scattered around Azaz, left over from those battles.
As the Assad regime’s grip on the ground slips, however, it is increasingly targeting rebel areas with attack helicopters and fighter jets — weapons the rebels can’t challenge.
Rebels and residents of the Aleppo countryside say the army rarely hits rebel targets, striking instead at residential areas and killing civilians.
The Azaz bombings appeared to fit that pattern.
The first blast seemed to come out of nowhere, shaking the city’s downtown and sending up a huge gray cloud of smoke that sent terrified residents rushing through the streets looking for cover.
Not long after, another jet appeared, dropping bombs nearby.
"We were in the house and heard this plane overhead," said a 36-year-old woman who gave her name as Um Hisham. "There was this huge boom that made my mother pass out in the kitchen."Next Page >
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.