The two strikes on Aleppo on Friday were not the first use of ballistic missiles in Syria’s 23-month conflict. The State Department said in December that a missile thought to be a Scud had been fired into rural Aleppo, and there have since been as many as 40 other strikes, according to the Turkish government.
But the Friday strikes and two others last week marked the first time that so many missiles have been fired into residential neighborhoods, representing what a Human Rights Watch report on Tuesday called “a new low” in the war. Three struck residential areas of Aleppo, and a fourth landed in the nearby town of Tal Rifaat, the most fired in a single week, killing a total of at least 141 people, the report said.
In the low-income neighborhood of Ard al-Hamra, where the second of Friday’s missiles struck, survivors recounted that the explosions were preceded by a sucking sensation in the air, followed by a blast the likes of which none had heard before.
“There was a compression of the air, then a flash, then everything went dark,” said Fouad Hajo, 33, who lives nearby and says he pulled dozens of bodies from the rubble. “Everything was black — black smoke and black fire.”
“People flew in the air,” Mohammed Haj Saleh, 33, added as he squatted on the rubble of his home. “There was flesh everywhere, and people’s bodies were blown apart.”
The Syrian government denied this week that it is using Scuds in its battle to crush the revolt against President Bashar al-
Assad, in which as many as 70,000 people have been killed. But military experts say all the available evidence, including the scale of the devastation from the explosions and the sightings — captured on video — of missiles being fired from bases outside Damascus shortly before the blasts, points to them being Scuds. The Russian-designed missiles carry about 2,000 pounds of explosives and are manufactured by Syria using parts imported from Russia, North Korea and Iran.
The Obama administration also thinks the missiles are most likely Scuds. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, on his first overseas trip in his new job, called the strikes on Aleppo “unacceptable,” saying that the use of Scuds belied an offer of negotiations by the Syrian government.
“It’s pretty hard to understand how, when you see these Scuds falling on the innocent people of Aleppo, it’s possible to take their notion that they’re ready to have a dialogue very seriously,” he told reporters Monday.
‘There’s nothing bigger’
Scud missiles are so inaccurate that it is hard to imagine that their use in residential areas is intended to do anything other than kill civilians, said Joe Holliday of the Institute for the Study of War, who estimates their margin of error as up to a mile.