'She said look up ... I saw a Mig jet coming straight for us'
SYRIAN BEAN farmer Yusuf Shahood Danon sat on a carpet with his two young sons, amid the rubble and ruins of his family home, shaded by the only wall left standing.
Three weeks ago, a jet took off from the nearby Minakh Airbase, under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s forces, and used its rockets to wipe out Yusuf’s entire district of al-Sad, a middle-class area of Azaz. It is a medieval city close to the Syrian-Turkish border, and for the past six weeks, it has been under the control of the Free Syrian Army.
The city has become an important staging post on the trail leading to refugee camps inside Turkey and for taking supplies and recruits arriving from across the border in the other direction towards the front line. Having failed to hold on to Azaz, the Assad regime is now attempting to dislodge the FSA by terrorising the local civilian population.
“It was around four o’clock in the afternoon, everything was quiet, there were no fighters around. I was up on the roof with my wife fixing the water tank, when she told me to look up. I saw a Mig jet coming straight for us, then there was a huge flash and the earth trembled. The next thing I knew, we were tumbling through the rubble,” he says.
To make matters worse, the family farm is situated right next to the Minakh airbase and therefore unreachable. “Snipers cover every direction for 2km and anyone who approaches is shot on sight. We’ve been left with no option but to let the crops dry out and perish,” he says. “First the airbase took our livelihood, then they sent a plane to take our home. Where will we live now? What will we eat? Have you ever seen a dictator as evil as Bashar?”
Like Londoners during the Blitz, the population here is being subjected to a constant and arbitrary campaign of air strikes by Assad’s warplanes. The towns targeted are those located in a tiny slice of the country north of Aleppo which has wrested itself free of the regime and is currently governed by the FSA. But the victims are civilians like Yusuf, as the regime’s planes aim for residential areas with almost no strategic military value, in flagrant violation of the UN Charter and article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.
Employing tactics rarely seen since the second World War, Assad’s forces often follow up the bombings with a practice known as strafing: low-flying aircraft swoop in and attack with machine gun fire buildings where residents have sought refuge.
The campaign is particularly fierce in areas at the edge of the FSA’s sphere of influence, such as the town of al-Bab, on the northeastern outskirts of Aleppo, where activists say between 19 and 25 people were killed by a single strike last week. Local residents claim this town is targeted on a daily basis because of the high number of demonstrations that took place against Assad.