When two small A37 attack jets streaked over a ridge from the south last month, residents of this mountaintop village raced into the forest or to cramped holes dug in banks of moist earth.

"We heard the first bombs almost as soon as we began running. Later there was machine gunning and rockets," Juana Rosas, 40, recalled.

The two Salvadoran Air Force planes, accompanied by a helicopter, dropped 11 bombs in the Oct. 11 raid on this town in territory that usually is controlled by left-wing guerrillas, villagers said.

The blasts destroyed three families' houses and a rudimentary health clinic run by the local revolutionary administration, they said. The buildings collapsed into jumbles of charred wooden beams and piles of mud bricks that were still visible here.

Eight-month-old Gregorio Ortega, wounded slightly in the head by flying debris, was the only casualty among the 22 residents present that day.

"Nobody died, thanks to God and to the training of our people, who have learned what to do in air raids," his mother, Esperanza, 34, said.

For the left-wing guerrillas and their peasant supporters in this small, rebel-dominated enclave in northern El Salvador, the civil war sporadically erupts at the doorstep in a matter of minutes.

In contrast with most of the rest of the country, where the armed forces have been tightening their hold with the help of U.S. funds and training, these sparsely populated mountains are the scene of continuing conflict.

The Air Force and Army reserve their most aggressive treatment for areas such as this one, a cradle of the Salvadoran revolutionary movement and still a vital rear-guard area for the rebels.

Despite the government's declared policy against attacking noncombatants, the guerrillas' civilian supporters are victims, according to dozens of residents interviewed here during a rare, extended trip behind guerrilla lines.

Aircraft sometimes attack the few inhabited villages left in this zone even when no guerrillas are around and when there has been no combat in the area, residents said.

Their accounts indicated that such raids were occasional rather than continual, and they said that the armed forces have shown more respect for civilians this year than in the past.

Seven witnesses at Patamera said in separate interviews that no guerrillas were nearby on the day of the bombing, which would appear to make the raid a violation of the government's 14-month-old rules governing use of air power.

The armed forces disputed the villagers' account, saying in response to a query that military operations were under way in the zone at the time.

Army troops often burn grain supplies, household goods and, occasionally, people's houses during near-monthly sweeps through the area, residents said.

The peasants, warned in advance by the guerrillas, flee their homes and conceal themselves in the thick forests or in caves for up to a week at a time until the troops leave.

They said they often live on only sugar and water while hiding in this way, and have only cloth blankets to protect themselves against rain.

Despite the fighting, neither the air nor ground assaults seem to have caused high casualty tolls. In all of this province of Chalatenango, a total of four civilians were confirmed to have died during government attacks in the past four months.

A pro-rebel doctor who works here estimated that an average of four or five civilians are wounded each month. In all of the country, the most recent confirmed civilian deaths from an air attack occurred on Oct. 12, when three civilians died just south of the town of Perquin in the northeastern province of Morazan.

Both guerrillas and their peasant backers, called masas or "masses," have years of experience in protecting themselves. In addition, rebels acknowledged that the armed forces have stopped killing scores or even hundreds of unarmed "organized" peasants at a time, as in previous years.

"We don't underestimate the effect of public opinion in the United States in discontinuing massacres. It has had some effect, but it hasn't stopped the policy of death," a peasant organizer said.

The armed forces' strategy appears to be to drive the rebel supporters out of guerrilla strongholds and thus deprive the revolutionaries of their base.

The continual threat laces in eastern Chalatenango where I had seen several hundred unarmns in the fields, spread it on the ground and set it afire," he said. "They smashed all of our cooking pots as well."

The sweep by the Atlacatl Battalion destroyed 75,000 pounds of grain, equal to roughly 15 percent of the total stored in eastern Chalatenango at the time, according to the local guerrilla-sponsored "popular government."

The battalion also killed one civilian, Eugenio Calles, in Los Albertos when he was discovered hiding on a nearby mountain, residents said.

Los Albertos also was the site of helicopter attacks in August and September, according to residents, although they disagreed about the dates.

No fighting was under way nearby at the time and nobody was injured, but several tile roofs had to be repaired after being damaged by machine-gun fire, they said.

The peasants here have grown accustomed to living in a war zone, and are expert at avoiding aircraft and troops.

Some have planted leafy trees next to their houses so their roofs are concealed from pilots flying overhead.

The local revolutionary governments have supervised construction of dozens of bomb shelters, and 11 women and children packed themselves into a hole 6 feet long, 6 feet wide and 4 feet high during the Patamera attack.

"Dirt fell in my hair, and it was hard to breathe," 4-year-old Mardoqueo Lopez said.

Later, while his grandmother Emilia was being interviewed about the raid, the boy clutched her skirt and said softly to himself, "The bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb."