AMMAN: Residents of a west Aleppo town known for hosting internally displaced Syrians are now themselves on the run after several dozen airstrikes hit civilian and medical sites over the last two weeks, sources on the ground told Syria Direct on Tuesday.
In the most recent attack, two missiles hit the town of Atareb, 30km west of Aleppo city, on Tuesday. The first crashed into Atareb’s central market, or souq, around 1:00pm, killing at least 11 civilians.
The second missile significantly damaged a residential neighborhood, but with no reported civilian casualties.
Since July 16, Syrian and Russian warplanes have bombed the west Aleppo countryside town of Atareb on at least six occasions, killing more than 90 civilians while injuring hundreds more, according to a local news source called the Atareb Facebook page.
Tuesday’s market bombing. Photo courtesy of the Atareb Facebook page.
Sources inside the town cite the ongoing regime campaign to capture Aleppo city as the primary reason for the escalation in neighboring Atareb.
“The regime wants to break the will of the rebels fighting for Aleppo…by taking revenge on civilians in Atareb,” Abdul Tayf, formerly of Atareb’s Local Council, told Syria Direct on Tuesday. “The regime is trying to spread the rebels thin and at the same time break their will to keep fighting.”
While the Free Syrian Army controls large swaths of the west Aleppo countryside, the sources Syria Direct interviewed inside Atareb insist that no armed rebel presence exists in the city. Warplanes have targeted markets, the city hospital and the Civil Defense headquarters over the past two weeks.
Both the Civil Defense building and personnel have been hit so often that “they no longer even have a central location,” Abdul Tayf said. “Even the hospital gets hit every time it is repaired after a bombing.”
Before July 16, tens of thousands of displaced Syrians—mostly from the provinces of Aleppo, Hama, Homs—sought refuge in Atareb from the comparatively harsher bombing campaigns in the surrounding areas.
Since 2011, Atareb, which sits along the highway 15km southeast of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, had doubled in population to 50,000 permanent and refuge-seeking residents.
However, since the start of the two-week, intensified bombing campaign—at its apex with more than 30 airstrikes in one hour—Syria’s internally displaced who once sought refuge in the city are fleeing once again.
Atareb on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of the Atareb Facebook page.
Today, no more than 10,000 people remain in the city, with the majority of the permanent and temporary residents now in neighboring villages.
“Our city is no longer safe for Syria’s internally displaced,” former Local Council member Abdul Tayf told Syria Direct.
Prior to the ongoing bombing campaign, Atareb was measurably different from other Syrian towns hosting the internally displaced, as the town’s residents took their compatriots into their homes, Syria Direct reported in June.
“Not a single person has had to stay in a camp because the people of the city have opened their homes,” Abdul Karim al-Omar, assistant coordinator of “Be Free,” which maintains a network of local civic-minded volunteers in Atareb, told Syria Direct in June. “Those people whom the world calls IDPs, we call our families, our brothers.”
Unlike the previously hospitable conditions in Atareb, many of those fleeing the city must pay exorbitant prices for housing in neighboring villages, while others take refuge in the countryside’s farms and orchards.
“All people want is safety, but, unfortunately, there is no such thing as a safe place around here,” Mohammed al-Halabi, a citizen journalist in Atareb told Syria Direct on Tuesday. “Even the villages to which people are fleeing can be bombed.”
“The destruction is total, and it affects every aspect of our lives.”
While the majority of Atareb’s residents have fled the town, some say they will stay.
“The regime wants to kick us out, but we won’t leave,” Atareb resident Abu Adnan told Syria Direct on Tuesday. “I’d rather die in my city.”
“Even the people fleeing are not safe,” Abu Adnan said. “Death will follow them wherever they go.”