by Jean-Marc Mojon
AAZAZ, Syria, Aug 15, 2012 (AFP) – A Syrian air strike on a rebel bastion in the north Wednesday flattened a string of houses and killed 23 people including children, activists said, leaving residents wailing in grief and anger.
“Bashar did this. God help us, these animals will kill us all,” said one man, hoisting a bloodied arm from a pile of body parts on the pavement outside the hospital in the town of Aazaz after the bombardment.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 people were killed in the attack by a MiG fighter jet, the latest atrocity blamed on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, but the toll was expected to rise.
The dead included women and children, while another 200 people were wounded, it said.
“There are many people still trapped under the rubble,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman. “The situation is horrific.”
An AFP correspondent said at least 10 houses had been flattened in the attack on Aazaz which lies just north of the main battleground city of Aleppo and is often used as rear base by rebel Free Syrian Army fighters.
“This was a civilian area. All these houses were packed with women and children sleeping during the fast,” said witness Abu Omar, a civil engineer in his 50s, referring to the dawn-to-dusk fast Muslims observe during Ramadan.
“Only dogs can do something like this. Israel wouldn’t do such a thing in a war,” he told AFP.
Witnesses and FSA forces who reinforced security around the town after the strike said the jet fired twice, targeting a makeshift media centre used by foreign reporters in the second, smaller strike.
The attack came amid heavy shelling of several districts of Aleppo, regarded as a pivotal battleground in the conflict that is now entering its 18th month and has killed more than 23,000 people according to activists.
Dozens of people, many wailing and shouting, were climbing over the rubble, trying to pull out victims, while hundreds of others fled.
Entire families, carrying bags of clothes and boxes of food on their heads, were seen filing past the immigration office at the crossing point into the Turkish town of Kilis.
“That’s it, I’m leaving for Turkey with my family today. Life here is impossible,” said an Aazaz resident who gave his name as Jomaa.
At the local hospital, people brought in the body of a little girl apparently aged no more than four.
Footage from an amateur video distributed by the Observatory also showed the immobile, dust-covered hand of a little girl, likely dead, reaching out from under ruined buildings.
Abdel Rahman said that among those wounded were four of a group of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims who were kidnapped near Aazaz in May.
Witnesses said the bomb must have weighed at least half a tonne and the impact shattered windows up to four blocks away.
Residents insisted there was no rebel base where the bomb struck but some said the families of FSA fighters lived there.
On the pavement outside the hospital, body parts had been heaped in a pile under a blanket.
A burly red-haired man with a bushy beard and hands covered in blood lifted the blanket after helping to bring in a wounded girl, grabbing a severed arm with skin and flesh dangling from it.
“I don’t know how many people these parts belong to, look here there’s half a woman and here half of somebody else,” he said as a crowd gathered around.
When he saw the mangled dust-caked body of a child less than a year old, he sat down on the pavement, clasped his head with both hands and started sobbing.
“Nobody knows how high the toll will climb now. It could take days to finish searching through the rubble,” said Abu al-Baraa, a doctor who had just arrived in Syria from Saudi Arabia to help.
“Nobody can understand why they targeted women and children. They must have wanted to punish the families of fighters,” he said.
“I’m a radiologist, not a surgeon, but I’ll do anything I can to help,” said Abu al-Baraa. There is only one other doctor at Aazaz hospital, an anaesthetist.
In Aleppo itself, an AFP correspondent said a new front had opened in the northeastern district of Baaideen, forcing residents to flee as regime forces pounded the area using tanks and warplanes.
Abu Ubayda, a local rebel commander, said regime forces were trying to encircle the FSA between Baaideen and southwestern district of Salaheddin which the government retook last week.
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