News / Middle East

VOA Reporter Witnesses Air Strike in Syria

VOA News
A Syrian warplane bombarded the rebel-controlled northern border town of Azaz on Wednesday, leaving scores wounded and several dozen dead, according to a VOA reporter on the scene.

VOA correspondent Scott Bobb was interviewing a local rebel commander when a bomb dropped by a Syrian Air Force MiG fighter hit three blocks away.

"It blew the windows out of the office during the interview, everyone evacuated," Bobb said. "A few minutes later, it appeared that the same MiG made a second pass and dropped another bomb."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 20 people were killed. Reuters reported that one activist said at least 30 bodies had been found and that the death toll is mounting, making it one of the deadliest government attacks in the nearly 18-month-long uprising.

Bobb reports that residents scurried to free the injured and collect the dead amid collapsed buildings.

"We are told that there are dozens dead in the city and probably many more wounded to varying degrees," Bobb said. "The citizens are panicking. Many have just jumped into whatever vehicle they have - cars, tractors, motorcycles - and headed away from the town with the fear that this may be the beginning of an offensive, though so far, it appears to just be a one-shot deal."

"The first bomb we are told hit near the central market," he said from the border area. "The second hit near the hospital.  We witnessed wounded coming across, one man was clearly dead having received shrapnel through the chest, others were lightly wounded but were going to Turkey for treatment."

"I have seen dozens of people fleeing, often families, sometimes three or four on a motorcycle," Bobb said. "I saw one family of about six on a farm tractor crossing through a rural road, an olive tree field, and others have come through in ambulances, pickup trucks, civilian vehicles, cars."

Azaz, SyriaAzaz, Syria
Azaz, Syria
Azaz, Syria
Azaz has been in rebel control for weeks and was not a government target until Wednesday, Bobb said.

"This town had been held by the Free Syrian Army for some time," Bobb said. "It was fairly stable and many of the refugees had returned. Locals say it was the first bombing they have experienced...This may have been something to rattle the population, it may have been a warning."

Damascus Bombing

The aerial assault came after a massive bomb exploded Wednesday in a parking lot outside a hotel used by United Nations observers in the Syrian capital, causing injuries but not harming international monitors.

Location of Dama Rose HotelLocation of Dama Rose Hotel
Location of Dama Rose Hotel
Location of Dama Rose Hotel
​Syrian state TV reported that the bomb, which ignited a nearby fuel truck, went off near the Dama Rose hotel and military buildings in Damascus. The blast wounded at least three people, but Syria's deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, said none of the U.N. monitors were affected.

Mekdad said the choice of location for the blast indicates the "heinous intentions" of those responsible - a veiled reference to insurgents fighting to oust the government of Bashar al-Assad.

"This is terrorism," Mekdad said. "It should be stopped. The international community must work hand in hand against terrorism. Once it hits here, near the United Nations observers, it can hit everywhere."  

The rebel Syrian Free Army claimed responsibility, but said it was targeting the Syrian military and not U.N. observers.  An FSA spokesman said the group had learned specifically of a large meeting of officers.

But Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, says a coordinated attack would be a very complicated operation for rebels to pull off as the area is likely to be heavily guarded.

Absent of a major betrayal by officers inside the Syrian military, Abou Diab says it's almost impossible for outside groups to enter the secure military compound enclave.

And while Abou Diab questions the veracity of the FSA claim, he says that the blast is yet another sign that the Syrian regime is weakening.

The Syrian capital has seen a wave of bombings recently. This latest incident comes four weeks after an explosion at the National Security building in Damascus killed several of Assad's top security officials.

The capital has seen fierce clashes between government forces and rebels in recent weeks, after being the scene of relative calm throughout much of the nearly 18-month-long uprising against Assad.

The Syrian attacks have also overflowed into Lebanon.

Lebanese state television said at least 20 Syrians were kidnapped inside Lebanese territory Wednesday, and gunmen are terrorizing the streets of Beirut.

World Weighs Options

The U.N. Security Council is due to discuss the situation in Syria on Thursday, days before the observer mission's mandate expires on August 19. The mission has already significantly scaled down from its peak of more than 300 monitors.

U.N. investigators said Wednesday the Syrian government and their militia allies have committed war crimes that include the killing and torturing of civilians. The investigators said rebel forces have also committed war crimes, but that these crimes "did not reach the gravity, frequency and scale" of those committed by the government.

China's official People's Daily newspaper on Wednesday criticized Western nations for talking about the prospect of a no-fly zone of Syria, saying such comments undermine U.N. mediation efforts and harm the unity of the Security Council.

The paper also reiterated China's commitment to a diplomatic solution to the crisis.  China has joined Russia in vetoing U.N. Security Council resolutions threatening Syria with sanctions for using heavy weapons against civilians.

Foreign ministers of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation agreed during a summit in Mecca to recommend suspending Syria from the group. But the foreign minister of Iran - one of Syria's strongest allies - said his country will never accept the proposal.

No-Fly Zone Discussed

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said earlier this week he is confident the United States could enforce a no-fly zone, but that it is not a top priority.

"We have planned for a number of contingencies that could take place and one of those possible contingencies is developing a no-fly zone. But we've also pointed out difficulties in being able to implement that," Panetta said. "It's not on the front burner as far as I know."

He also says Iran is trying to develop and train a militia in Syria to fight rebels on behalf of Assad's government.

Last year, the U.S. and its NATO allies implemented a no-fly zone over Libya as rebels fought against and eventually ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi. But the circumstances are different in Syria, which has much more sophisticated air defenses than Libya.

President Assad's forces have increased air attacks in recent weeks, targeting rebel strongholds in key places such as the nation's largest city of Aleppo.

Syrian rebels have said they need a no-fly zone to protect against the attacks.

Government Struggling

Riad Hijab, Syria’s defected former prime minister, speaks at a press conference at the Hyatt Hotel in Amman, Jordan, August 14, 2012.Riad Hijab, Syria’s defected former prime minister, speaks at a press conference at the Hyatt Hotel in Amman, Jordan, August 14, 2012.
Riad Hijab, Syria’s defected former prime minister, speaks at a press conference at the Hyatt Hotel in Amman, Jordan, August 14, 2012.
Riad Hijab, Syria’s defected former prime minister, speaks at a press conference at the Hyatt Hotel in Amman, Jordan, August 14, 2012.
Former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab appeared publicly Tuesday for the first time since his defection, calling President Bashar al-Assad's government an "enemy of God" and saying it is collapsing.

In a news conference in the Jordanian capital Amman, Hijab said he defected last week from the government and joined the 17-month Syrian uprising of his own will. He said he was not dismissed from his post as Syrian authorities claimed and urged other Syrian leaders to break from the government.

High-Profile Defectors from Syria

  • Prime Minister Riad Hijab defected to Jordan on August 6, two months after taking top post.
  • Nawaf Fares, Syria's ambassador to Iraq became first Syrian envoy to defect on July 11, 2012.
  • Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, highest ranking military officer to abandon Syrian government on July 6, 2012.
  • Colonel Hassan Hammadeh flew his MiG-21 warplane to neighboring Jordan during a June, 2012, training mission and was granted asylum.
  • Imad Ghalioun, member of Syria’s parliament, left country in January, 2012, to join opposition.
  • Adnan Bakkour, former attorney general of Hama, appeared in video in late August 2011 announcing he had defected.
The former prime minister is the highest-ranking political figure to defect from the Syrian government. He fled to Jordan with his family.

Hilal Khashan, an analyst at the American University of Beirut, says that Western supporters of the Syrian opposition, including the U.S., are trying to identify ex-members of Assad's regime who are able to form a core leadership for a new Syria.

"The U.S. is trying to identify defectors from Assad's regime as leaders of a post-Assad Syria," Khashan said. "It's clear [from] that, based on comments by Hijab today, when he said that there are good decent people in Assad's administration and that they should join the uprising."

Syrian activists say more than 20,000 people have been killed since the start of the revolt in March of last year.

VOA's Edward Yeranian contributed to this report from Cairo. Information for this report was also provided by AP, AFP and Reuters

Photo Gallery: Latest Images from Syria

  • A Free Syrian Army fighter observes the area during clashes in Aleppo, August 16, 2012.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter carries the body of a fellow fighter in Aleppo, August 16, 2012.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter reads the Quran before clashes in Aleppo, August 16, 2012.
  • A man searches among houses that were destroyed during a recent Syrian Air Force air strike in Azaz, August 15, 2012.
  • Syrians evacuate a wounded man from under the rubble after an air strike destroyed at least ten houses in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, August 15, 2012.
  • Injured Syrian women arrive at a field hospital after an air strike hit their homes in the town of Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, August 15, 2012.
  • A Syrian man carries an injured child to a field hospital after an air strike hit homes in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, August 15, 2012.
  • Wounded Syrians arrive at a field hospital after an air strike hit their homes in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, August 15, 2012.
  • Syrians wounded in an air strike that hit their homes evacuate a field hospital after a second air strike in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, August 15, 2012.
  • Wounded Syrians evacuate a field hospital after a second air strike in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, August 15, 2012.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter passes an AK-47 rifle to his fellow fighter in Aleppo, August 14, 2012.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter reacts after hearing news that his commander had been killed by tank shell in Aleppo, August 14, 2012.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter fires his sniper rifle from a house in Aleppo, August 14, 2012.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters sit behind a barricade on a street in Aleppo, August 13, 2012.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter observes the area with a pair of binoculars in Aleppo, August 13, 2012.

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Comment Sorting
by: ICURPNT from: USA
August 15, 2012 1:48 PM
There is no doubt the Middle East is going to explode into oblivion at some point. All the Major Super Powers are dangling their puppet strings. The care for the lives of Human Beings is at an all-time low. The epicenter for WW III, and the destruction of Man lays along this path. Syria is just another piece of the puzzle inflaming the pragmatic status of mankind.

by: Anonymous
August 15, 2012 1:21 PM
And in other news headlines today:
The panel appointed by the UN's 47-nation Human Rights Council blamed the government and allied militia for the killing of more than 100 civilians in the village of Houla in May, nearly half of them children, and said the murders, unlawful killing, torture, sexual violence and indiscriminate attacks "indicate the involvement at the highest levels of the armed and security forces and the government."

Assad is proven to be a systematic killer, he should be either a) killed OR b) captured. Lets put an end to this genocide by its very own leader. How does Russia and China feel now? Being buddies with a systematic killer, and preventing him from justice being served? This terrible ordeal has gone on long enough. The world needs to put an end to Assad permanently.
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 16, 2012 1:22 PM
They tried a cease fire, Assad didn't abide by it. Assad and his father have done the same thing, history shows. I don't care who is fighting against Assad, as long as his killing campaign is ended. I like the fact the west is helping the civillians of Syria stand up against this ruthless regime, the people deserve better. Every Syrian does not want war, but also almost every Syrian prefers to have freedom. No country in the world should have a leader like Assad, ever. Systematically killing your own people suggests you are a Mass Murderer. Obviously Assad has no care in the world for his very own country, history, or people. Destroying Syrian cities is like a kid who can't have his own way.

by: Michael from: USA
August 15, 2012 8:51 AM
International monitors ought to mention the problems that remarks from China and Iran are making. China in the past has held to the idea that civil opposition of any kind calls for a military-oriented approach. And China owns nuclear submarines that in the past have been spotted off the shoreline in the Middle-East. If international conflict coud result from Syria it would be as no surprise since all the parts are in place

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