Last updated: 28 July, 2014

Syria thyme seller and sons killed as Ramadan ends

Ramadan had just an hour left to go, but Bashar Sarmini, the thyme seller of Aleppo, and his three sons never saw the sun set on the month of fasting.

A rapid barrel-bombing raid by Syrian regime planes killed them all in the rebel-held district of Shaar in the divided northern city, the Syrian observatory for Human Rights reported.

“At least nine civilians, three of them children, were killed by barrel bombs (dropped by regime aircraft) in Shaar,” an eastern district, the monitoring body said.

The Britain-based group, which relies on an extensive network of medical, military and activist sources on the ground, warned the death toll could rise because of the large number of people of seriously wounded.

“Six more civilians, including three children and a woman, were killed in mortar shelling by rebels” of the government-held district of Jabiriyeh, the Observatory said.

An AFP photographer who visited the district on Monday was able to confirm Sarmini was among the dead, along with his three sons, Ahmad, Mohamad and Abdel Hadi.

Sarmini was something of a local character, making a living by selling za’atar, the local herb with a thyme-like flavour highly-prized in Levantine cuisine, and much sought-after in the region.

Za’atar has long green leaves, grows along the slopes of the Syrian-Lebanese mountains, and the traditional za’atar shops are considered special in this part of the world.

“The barrel bomb dropped Sunday night an hour before Iftar (the end of the fasting) at a time when everyone was doing their last-minute shopping ready for the feast (of Eid al-Fitr). People were stunned and were just crying quietly to themselves,” AFP photographer Zein al-Rifai said.

One of his photos shows the shattered body of one of the boys, and another the mutilated corpse of one of his brothers. “I had to think long and hard about sending the second one because it’s too horrible,” he added.

The northern city of Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial capital, has been divided since 2012 into western sectors held by the government and rebel-held areas.

Hundreds of people have died in near-daily regime air raids, many with the use of crude and inaccurate barrel bombs, despite repeated condemnation by the international community.

The latest bloodshed came at the start of the Eid al-Fitr feast which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Meanwhile, in Damascus President Bashar al-Assad received a warm welcome from the congregation as he joined Eid prayers Monday at a mosque in Muhajarin, although the Observatory said the area was hit by rebel shelling in the morning.