Syrian warplanes bomb rebel-held town, 8 killed

August 15, 2012 - 1:44 PM
APTOPIX Mideast Syria

Injured Syrian women arrive at a field hospital after an air strike hit their homes in the town of Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

AZAZ, Syria (AP) — The Syrian fighter jets swooped in low over the rebel-held town of Azaz Wednesday in two bombing runs that sent panicked civilians fleeing for cover and reduced homes to rubble. Associated Press reporters who witnessed the air raids near the Turkish border saw at least eight dead including a baby and dozens wounded, most of them women and children.

One man was pulled bloodied but alive from the wreckage of destroyed homes.

"God is great! God is great!" yelled his rescuers as he emerged. Then they laid him in a blanket and carried him to a pickup truck.

Nearby, a woman sat on the pile of bricks that once was her home, cradling a dead baby. Two other bodies lay next to her, covered in blankets.

"I saw the plane come down and some missiles fall and then there was smoke all over," said Mohammed Fuad, 18, who lives near the site of the attacks. "When it cleared, we heard screaming and saw rubble all over the streets."

The attack came on the same day the U.N. released a report accusing Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces and their militia backers of war crimes in the killings of more than 100 civilians — nearly half children — in the village of Houla in May. It said the civil war was moving in a "brutal" direction on both sides.

About a dozen rebel fighters flocked to the scene, none armed with more than a Kalashnikov assault rifle. At one point, some men started screaming, sparking a panic that the jets were returning and sending the crowd dashing for cover. In the end, it was a false alarm, and all came back to look for more bodies.

The first fighter jet appeared in the sky late in the day and dropped bombs on the town, sending up a huge cloud of smoke. Terrified families tore through the streets. Soon after, a second jet swooped over, dropping another charge that shook downtown.

The blast damaged buildings far beyond the bombing sites. It sheared the front wall off one home, exposing a panicked man and his wife rummaging through their kitchen, where jars of olives and pickles still sat in the cupboards.

Some 15 simple, concrete homes were reduced to a huge expanse of rubble. Scores of men ran to the area, digging for people buried underneath the debris. One group brought a generator and an electrical saw to cut through rebar. A short time later, they found a man, his clothes torn and limbs covered with blood.

Most of the wounded were quickly ferried by cars to the Turkish border, 4 miles north.

The Assad regime is increasingly relying on attack helicopters and fighter jets to target rebels in the countryside around Aleppo, Syria's largest city where rebels and regime forces have been battling for control for several weeks. The regime has been pushed out of towns and villages in a large swath of territory between Aleppo and the Turkish border.

Wednesday's bombings did not appear to hit specific rebel targets, though one of the sites was about one kilometer (mile) away from the local rebels' political and media offices.

Azaz, some 48 kilometers (30 miles) north of Aleppo, considers itself "liberated" since rebel forces pushed the army out in a series of gritty street battles last month. Its largest rebel group, the Northern Storm brigade, runs a prison and the nearby border crossing with Turkey.

Although Syria's rebels have grown adept at ambushing regime troops and tanks, they are largely helpless against the government's air power.