Herve Bar, AFP
Last updated: 15 October, 2012

Death rains from the sky in Syrian rebel city

A roar rips the sky and the fighter jet streaks past at low altitude. It wheels round and on its second pass drops a bomb before heading just as quickly back over the horizon.

The explosion shakes the city, the blast noise hellish.

It’s the start of a new day of bombardment on the northern Syrian city of Maaret al-Numan, held by the rebels battling the regime of Bashar al-Assad and now a target for deadly air strikes by the embattled president’s air force.

Since the rebel Free Syrian Army took the last loyalist positions last week and also seized part of the main highway, regime warplanes have been pounding the now mainly deserted city which once housed 125,000 residents.

The first air strikes come in the early hours of the day, as usual, and again target a district in the centre of town.

Construction worker Adnan Khaled Kashit is 50 years old and has come to see his mother. A neighbour has just brought them some potatoes, and he is sitting outside the house, reading the Koran.

The bomb hits the middle of the street just 20 metres (yards) from their house.

Kashit is literally cut in two. Minutes after the blast, his terribly mutilated body lies face down in a puddle of blood, just steps away from the front door. A straw mattress is placed on the body to hide the horror.

“He was my son! Who’ll look after me now?” his distraught mother screams at the sky, tears streaming down her face as she beats herself on the chest.

“God, you took my son — take pity on his soul,” she implores as two women already draped in black veils try to hold her up.

More grief-stricken relatives arrive as one man retrieves body parts and puts them in a plastic bag.

“We have to get the body away before his children get here,” he sighs.

In the end, men from the neighbourhood decide to remove his remains using large reinforced plastic bags.

An old man leaning on a cane surveys the scene, stupefied by what he sees happening before him.

A member of the family, aged in his forties and mechanically thumbing through a string of worry beads, turns his head away to hide the tears.

The bloodied face of the victim is washed.

“My son is in a plastic bag,” cries his mother. “I want to see his face one last time.”

Passers-by are angry.

“Look at what the regime does to its own people,” says one; “Come here, Lakhdar Brahimi!” shouts another, referring to the UN and Arab League peace envoy tasked with trying to broker an end to the raging conflict.

Residents collect still-warm bits of the bomb that blasted a crater several metres wide in the middle of the road, the acrid smell of cordite still hanging.

Debris, both stone and metal, litters the street. The fronts of buildings close to the seat of the blast have been destroyed, the metal shutters of businesses on the ground floors mangled. An electricity pole shattered by the bomb smoulders.

There is no sign in this district of a rebel presence, apart from the occasional fighter passing by on a motorbike. Like most of the attacks on Maaret al-Numan, the strike that killed Kashit has come blindly and at random in a civilian area.

The house of the “martyr” adjoins an old cemetery where gravediggers are already hard at work, excavating his resting place.

On this day in Maaret al-Numan, air raids and artillery bombardment have killed at least five people, Adnan Khaled Kashit and an adolescent boy of 15 among them.