A Syrian government fighter jet bombed a residential neighborhood, killing more than 40 civilians and wounding at least 100 others in the town of Azaz, including many women and children, Human Rights Watch said today after visiting the town. In the attack on August 15, 2012, at least two bombs destroyed an entire block of houses in the al-Hara al-Kablie neighborhood of Azaz, in Syria’s northern Aleppo province.
Human Rights Watch investigated the site of the bombing two hours after the attack and interviewed witnesses, victims, medical personnel, and relatives of those killed.
“This horrific attack killed and wounded scores of civilians and destroyed a whole residential block,” said Anna Neistat, acting emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “Yet again, Syrian government forces attacked with callous disregard for civilian life.”
Azaz residents told Human Rights Watch that, at around 3 p.m., they saw a fighter jet drop at least two bombs on the residential area. Within seconds, dozens of houses in an area of approximately 70-by-70 meters – more than half a football field – were flattened. Houses on the surrounding streets were significantly damaged, with collapsed walls and ceilings. On the streets around the bombed area, windows were broken and some walls had collapsed.
Two opposition Free Syrian Army facilities in the vicinity of the attack might have been targets of the Syrian aircraft, Human Rights Watch said. One was the headquarters of the local Free Syrian Army brigade, in the former building of the Baath party, 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 shabeeha militia. Neither of these facilities was damaged in the attack.
Rescuers used two bulldozers to retrieve the dead and wounded from the ruins. By 7 p.m., medical personnel at the scene said they had recovered 25 bodies, and were looking for more in the rubble. A man helping to bury the bodies said that by midnight 33 people had been buried in Azaz.
The exact number of victims is difficult to verify. Most of the wounded were transported to hospitals across the nearby Turkish border. A hospital volunteer in the Turkish town of Kilis, about 20 kilometers north of Azaz, told Human Rights Watch that 61 wounded people from Azaz had been brought to the hospital, and another 13 people had died either on the way to Kilis or shortly after arrival, among them seven men, two women and four children. At least another 16 severely wounded people were brought to a hospital in the Turkish town of Gaziantep, about 80 kilometers from Azaz, a doctor in that hospital told Human Rights Watch.