Syria town bordering Turkey fades into ruin

Syria town bordering Turkey fades into ruin

AZAZ - Hürriyet Daily News
Syria town bordering Turkey fades into ruin

The small Syrian town on Turkey’s border, Azaz, is now being controlled by rebels fighting against Syrian President al-Assad. DAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜREL

The northern Syrian city of Azaz has become a ghost town in the wake of fierce battles between the Syrian government and militants that have left the locale in the hands of the opposition Free Syrian Army.

Entrance to the area, which is 15 to 20 kilometer from Turkey, is controlled by heavily armed rebel fighters who escort visitors from the militant-held border post at Bab al-Salam.

As heavy clashes continue in the Syrian city of Aleppo, 50 kilometers from Azaz, a few people are trying to resume their normal life after rebels took the area two weeks ago following six months of clashes that reportedly killed hundreds and sent thousands more into exile.

People in the ghost town are now seeking to fix the electricity and water and reopen bakeries and the local market.

The town is littered with burned tanks that have now become a playground for the children of the city, as well as damaged buildings and destroyed houses.

A statue of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was destroyed by the opposition militants after they took the city. The rebels have presently moved to hoist their own flag and rename the town’s main square “Martyrs’ Square” after fallen militants.

The building which used to function as the Azaz District Directorate was burned down by rebel soldiers in the fight and is now filled with anti-government graffiti.

A fighter from the rebels, 22-year-old Neffel Ibrahim, said he had defected from the Syrian Army like many other militants three months ago.

Syria town bordering Turkey fades into ruin

“Al-Assad soldiers wrote on the walls of the buildings, ‘We want al-Assad or we are going to burn this country down;’ then we came and burned down their building,” Ibrahim said.

“Bashar’s [al-Assad] soldiers were killing people on the streets with snipers from the roofs. They were betting with each other for a cigarette on who would be able to kill the first passersby,” Ibrahim said.
One of Azaz’s mosques was completely destroyed; there is little that remains in the building apart from former government soldiers’ uniforms, while there are also two burned-out tanks below the former house of worship.

“There were also snipers at the top of this mosque; they were killing more than 20 people every day. We had to bomb the mosque in order to be able to kill them,” Ibrahim said.

Bin Zeydan, a local girls’ elementary school, as well as many bakeries, markets and shops were allegedly all burned down by government forces.

One Azaz resident accused the government of burning 25 people in one of the school’s classrooms.
Besir Katmawi, another resident of Azaz, said he was forced to flee after his brother’s house came under fire from government forces. Later, government forces allegedly used the dwelling as a sniper location, he said, adding that he had discovered human feet in the building after the rebels took the town.

Pointing to bombshells and bullets inside the house, he said, “These are al-Assad’s bombshells, these are his massacres, show the world all of these.”