Syrian Rebel Town Empties After Government Bombing
AZZAZ, SYRIA — The Syrian government's bombing and shelling campaign in rebel-held areas and elsewhere in the country has caused tens of thousands to flee their homes. The northern town of Azzaz, has been hit repeatedly by aerial attacks.
There are almost no unbroken windows in Azzaz. Residents have given up replacing the broken glass because of repeated bombings by Assad's forces. The air attacks began eight months ago after rebels seized the city.
More than 80 percent of the population - estimated at 55,000 people - have fled. Hundreds of residents have been killed. And many more have been wounded.
Two bombs last month hit near the city's 700-year-old mosque and market, killing 35, mostly women and children. Now only a few vendors in the market's covered street try to stay open.
Abdullah Mahmoud says it is hard. Vegetable prices have tripled or more since the war started, and people don't have money to buy. He has thought of leaving but stays on.
“I need to do business to live," he explains. "If something bad happens, it's God's will; it happens. I have no money. Where can I go?”
The reason for the residents' flight is all too evident in a farming neighborhood on the outskirts of town. Three weeks ago, nine bombs landed here.
Only one exploded. It seriously wounded Mohamed Bakri's brother-in-law, a female cousin and three children. They are in a hospital in Turkey. Yet, Bakri says, there are no rebel forces in this area.
The government maintains it is going after terrorists and is not targeting civilians.
“I think it's random shelling," Bakri said. "They've bombed the market and other civilian areas. The government is just taking revenge on the Syrian people.”
Many of those who flee the attacks first go to places like an olive farm located outside the city and close to the Turkish border. They hope the Syrian planes will not bomb here and they will be safe.
Farmer Mahmoud Ashawi left Azzaz with his family of nine after the market bombing. About 70 members of his extended family now live here in tents.
“For us it's not too bad but we need to work. We can go to Azzaz to work for a while. But, when we hear the sound of the jets, we run away," Ashawi admits. "They don't bomb every day, but, when they do, they bomb civilians.”
Ashawi's family has applied for space in the ever-growing Bab al-Salama camp just this side of the Turkish border. If they get in, they will join the more than 10,000 Syrians waiting in the camp to become refugees in Turkey.