15 Aug 2012

Syria town torn apart by Assad’s bombs

As the UN concludes that the massacre in Houla was a war crime authorised by President Assad, at least 30 people are reported killed in an air strike by Syrian forces on the rebel-held town of Azaz.

Warning: the accompanying video contains extremely distressing images

The carnage and suffering continues in Syria. As film emerges of the aftermath of an attack by Syria’s air force on the rebel-held town of Azaz, the United Nations today concluded that the massacre of Houla, in May of this year, was a war crime authorised by President Assad.

The UN went on to accuse the Free Syrian Army of lesser war crimes, but without the same gravity and frequency as those perpetrated by the Assad regime.

Azaz sits in a large enclave carved out by the rebels in the north of the country. The regime still holds the town’s military airport, however, and it is from there that it has launched deadly airstrikes. One yesterday hit a hospital.

Azaz residents claim the MiG fighters which bombed them were not targeting rebel fighters but civilians. More than 18,000 have now been killed across the country since the uprising started last year.

Those who live in rebel-held Syria are clinging to the words of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who last weekend said that all measures aimed at overthrowing President Assad were being considered – including a no-fly zone.

Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Rugman told Jon Snow that Azaz, which sits right on the Turkish border, is run by revolutionary committees which ensure the functioning of basic services in the town. It is protected by a militia from the Free Syrian Army.

He predicted that the Azaz attack will increase calls for the imposition of a no-fly zone – but there is no apparent appetite for anyone to organise it.

Damascus blast

Earlier today, a bomb exploded in the Syrian capital, Damascus, at a hotel used by United Nations monitors.

The bomb, which was placed in a car park behind the hotel, blew up a fuel truck which sent clouds of black smoke into the sky above the capital.

Quoted on state television, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, said none of the observers had been wounded in the blast: “This was a criminal act aimed at distorting Syria’s image.”

The target was not immediately clear. The area is home to the Syrian army officers club and a building belonging to the ruling Baath Party and is also not far from the army command.

Video from the site of the explosion broadcast by El-Ikhbariya, a pro-government channel, showed firemen hosing down a steaming fuel truck whose tank was blasted open near the hotel. A row of white UN vehicles parked nearby was covered in ash and dust.

A witness said the explosion had gone off at around 05.30 GMT and damaged a building opposite the Dama Rose Hotel, where the monitors were staying, but appeared not to have damaged the hotel itself.