[This blog was originally published in The Telegraph]
By Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International's Senior Crisis Adviser
Eleven-year-old Ahmad Hamdo lay still on a stretcher on the floor of the hospital.
Moments earlier he’d died from shrapnel injuries to the abdomen and pelvis.
In the same room, doctors were desperately trying to save a little girl with bad head injuries.
Her father was holding her hand, murmuring “my darling daughter stay with me”. She died 10 minutes later. Her name was Maram Qaddi and she was 5 years old.
Maram, Hamdo and another child, a 15-year-old girl named Do’aa, were killed when their homes in the village of ‘Ainkawi were bombed by the Syrian air force killing five civilians and injuring dozens.
Toddler, Mothanna Abdo was one of the injured arriving in hospital with horrendous gaping wounds in his right thigh, where fragments of the bomb had penetrated. I don’t know how such a small child could bear so much pain. His mother had a nasty shrapnel injury in her back.
Every day children and other civilians are being killed and injured in indiscriminate air bombardments and artillery strikes by government armed forces all over Syria.
With the attention of the international media mostly focused on fighting in Aleppo and the capital, hardly any news reaches the outside world about the horrors of daily life for the residents of Jabal al-Zawiya and elsewhere in the Idlib and north Hama regions.
Every day civilians are killed or injured in their homes, or in the street, as they run for cover.
Hundreds have lost their lives or been injured in recent days and weeks, many of them children.
Towns and villages have been virtually emptied of their residents, many of whom are now camping out in the surrounding countryside or hiding in caves.
Some are crowding in with relatives in what they hope are safer areas. Others have fled across the border to Turkey – or are currently stuck at the border waiting to cross.
In Maaret Misrin – a town of 40,000 which had until recently played host to a stream of families fleeing the fighting – I witnessed indiscriminate bombings every day. The town is now virtually deserted and there is no safe place for the few remaining residents,.
On 9 September, four artillery shells landed in the space of half an hour. Nabila Haddad, a mother of four, and her cousin Ahmad Haddad were killed and her 15-year-old son was gravely injured, along with two other relatives.
The day before, while I was in the town investigating an airstrike that had killed several civilians, two shells landed on a family house in the next street. We found the occupants stunned, coated in white dust but, mercifully, uninjured. When the bomb fell they’d all been drinking tea.
Terrified women and children were huddled in a room in an undamaged part of the house. I couldn’t believe how lucky they had been to have escaped unharmed.
Others were not so lucky. A family told me how their relatives and neighbours were killed and injured in a strike on 18 August – a man called Nazir Najjar and his 13-year-old son died, his wife and three other children were injured. In the same attack - a woman who lived next door, Yusra Yunes, and the owner of the grocery shop downstairs, Mohammed Aalulu, also died.
The bombing and shelling is relentless. During the 11 days I’ve been in the area not a single day passed without shelling and I did not find a single town or village which had not been hit.
Victims are almost always civilians. Not surprisingly, as the unguided bombs dropped by aircraft, and artillery shells and mortars are notoriously imprecise. They target areas, not specific objects, and are meant for the battle field. They should never be used in residential areas.
On 8 September I arrived in Taftanaz, where a brutal Syrian army attack last April left scores of civilians dead.
Now virtually deserted, the town was being rocked by loud explosions. The car shook as two artillery shells – they seem to come mostly in pairs - landed in an empty space nearby.
There was nobody around except for the two-car convoy I was travelling in, which was full of women and children on their way to the refugee camps in Turkey – hardly a military target. A few minutes later another shell landed in an empty field by the main road a few hundred metres ahead of our vehicle. Again, no military target in sight.
Not everyone is able to leave – there is very little fuel available – and some don’t want to become refugees. And wherever there are residents there are victims – often children.
At the hospital of one of the villages in Jabal al-Zawiya, two bodies were brought in, a young man and a boy. The back half of the boy’s head was missing. A man who had brought in some of the injured came to look at the child and fainted at the sight.
The child was later identified as Abdo Ahmad al-Hammami aged nine.
In an emergency room a 13-year-old boy screamed in pain; he had shrapnel injuries all over his body and was waiting his turn to be seen behind others with even worse injuries. Two of those patients died in the following two hours despite the doctors’ efforts to save them.
They were the victims of yet another indiscriminate attack. Some of the wounded and their relatives told me several missiles exploded in the nearby village of Ehsem, killing and injuring residents in their homes and in the street. Five were killed and at least ten were injured in the attack.
The same pattern is repeated in all the areas which have come under the effective control of opposition forces. Having been forced out of the area, government forces are now bombing from the air and shelling from afar, knowing that the victims of such indiscriminate attacks are almost always civilians.