Outside the city, residents sat on blankets and drank tea in what’s become a daily routine: They leave the city at dawn, when the fighting begins, and return after dark, when the airstrikes generally stop. They often simply spread blankets under the trees by the side of the road.
“We could stay in our houses when it was just shelling,” one woman said. “But with the airstrikes, no building is safe.”
“They say they are targeting terrorists, but what about airplanes? Are they distinguishing between children and terrorists? There are a large number of children who have died in the past two days,” said Umm Abdo, who identified herself with a nickname that means “mother of Abdo” in Arabic. She sat on a blanket under a stand of trees as her five children played nearby. They’ve fled their home many times, she said.
“My niece was killed,” she said. “My cousins were killed. We were in (a town nearby) and in a school, and they targeted the school and many people were killed and wounded,” she said.
Umm Abdo said her house was destroyed 10 days ago, and that she and her family now stayed in the empty apartments of neighbors who’d fled more permanently. As she spoke, a jet could be seen strafing a rebel position less than half a mile away.
“At least if we stay here, we have the hope of going back to Maaret al Numan,” she said, rejecting the idea of fleeing over Syria’s northern border to Turkey, where about 100,000 Syrians are housed in refugee camps run by the Turkish government. Thousands more remain on the Syrian side of the border, prevented from entering Turkey by Turkish soldiers.