Syrian air attacks worry some at camps for displaced people

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 7, 2013 

— On Jan. 13, bombs dropped by Syrian aircraft destroyed this town’s open-air market and at least five buildings around it. U.S. officials and Syrian opposition leaders say the bombings were part of a Syrian government tactic to target people who’ve fled because of violence in their home cities.

Sixty people died and more than 100 were wounded, according to Dr. Bara’a al Nasser, 29, who works in the clinic at the nearby Bab al Salamah camp at Azaz, directly on the Turkish border. He said most of the casualties were women and children.

Most of the estimated 40,000 people now living in the city of Azaz are internally displaced, and many of them are on a waiting list for tents at the Bab al Salamah camp, he said.

One of those wounded last month was Nasser’s guard, Hamad al Hamsi, 18. “I had sent him into Azaz to get batteries and to buy food for lunch, and to fix the stethoscope. He was knocked unconscious. We sent him to the hospital,” said Nasser, himself displaced from Aleppo.

Another guard, Ahmad Zamut, 30, lost his mother in a missile attack against Azaz in early December in which his brother and his young son were wounded. He said aircraft had dropped 12 so-called “barrel bombs,” containers filled with explosives shoved from helicopters, and had fired three missiles at civilian targets.

Another attack came Nov. 17 at a camp set up at the main border crossing from Syria into Turkey at Bab al Hawa, about 60 miles southeast of here. There was no one in the camp at the time, which was destroyed by the bombing.

Several times a week, the Syrian military sends aircraft over the two major camps for the internally displaced near the Turkish border. The military tends to fly in clear weather, so those are the days people fear the most. On Saturday, a MiG-23 overflew Bab al Salamah, and within minutes Turkey sent up a squadron of U.S.-supplied F-16s, according to Nasser, the camp doctor.

Syrian combat aircraft flew over the Atma camp Wednesday, but they didn’t drop any bombs, according to Gen. Abdul Rahman Ashakh, a rebel military commander who helps oversee security at the camp.

Since last weekend, there’s been no need to scramble the jets at Azaz. “We had very bad weather – rainy, cold and foggy,” Nasser told McClatchy by telephone Wednesday night. “No aircraft were flying.”

Email: rgutman@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @RoyGutmanMCC

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