Over 40 killed in Syria’s Azaz airstrike: watchdog
BEIRUT: Syrian government airstrikes on a residential neighborhood in a rebel-held town killed over 40 people and wounded at least 100 others including many women and children, international watchdog Human Rights Watch said Thursday. The strikes on the town of Azaz in northern Syria a day earlier leveled the better part of a poor neighborhood and sent panicked civilians fleeing for cover. So many were wounded that the local hospital locked its doors, directing residents to drive their injured to the nearby Turkish border for treatment on the other side.
The bombardment appeared aimed at rattling the sense of control that rebels have sought to project over the northwestern corner of Syria near the Turkish border since they drove President Bashar Assad’s army from the area last month.
Human Rights Watch, which investigated the site of the bombing two hours after the attack, put the number at over 40.
“This horrific attack killed and wounded scores of civilians and destroyed a whole residential block,” said Anna Neistat, the group’s acting emergencies director. “Yet again, Syrian government forces attacked with callous disregard for civilian life.”
HRW said two opposition Free Syrian Army facilities in the vicinity might have been targets of the Syrian aircraft. One was the headquarters of the local Free Syrian Army brigade two streets away from the block that was hit. The other was a detention facility where the Free Syrian Army held “security detainees” — government military personnel and members of pro-government shabiha militia. Neither of these facilities was damaged in the attack.
In Damascus, the UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said the Syrian conflict has “become more intense and is too often indiscriminate.”
“All parties must do more to protect civilians,” said Amos at the end of the three-day mission to try to open more channels for international aid inside Syria.
She observed that “the humanitarian situation has worsened” since her last visit to Syria in March, when the UN estimated more than 1 million people had been displaced or in need of critical humanitarian aid. “Now as many as 2.5 million are in need of assistance,” she said.
Later in Beirut, Amos expressed frustration at Syria’s reluctance to allow more major international aid groups into the country because of Syrian fears that relief supplies could reach rebels. “They don’t want to see that happen,” she said.
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.
Posted by: Steve White