Azaz - the frontier town caught in Syria's crossfire
The small Syrian town of Azaz is just 15 kilometres from the nearest Turkish town of Kilis. On 15 August Bashar al-Assad's forces bombarded the town, killing 50 people. The attack was part of a brutal crackdown on Aleppo’s countryside, but also a threat to those trying to escape to Turkey. Many have fled, but some have remained to try and rebuild.
Although the town is quiet, the threat of another attack hangs in the air.
Tall piles of rubble, crowned with burnt-out tanks, dot the streets. The threat of the regime’s power still haunts the town, so all of those interviewed wished to remain anonymous.
The owner of an olive oil factory displays iron doors riddled with bullet holes, from when his building was used by regime forces as a sniper base:
"There were settling here, the snipers: you see the holes?" he says. "They were sniping [sic] from here. There were snipers here just shooting everyone.”
Azaz also saw a protracted battle in which the Free Syrian Army wrested the town from the regime’s grip in order to control the border crossing.
The town was considered a safe zone until it was shelled by regime forces.
Two weeks after the last shell hit, the factory is slowly being rebuilt. The owner claims that pro-regime soldiers stole its contents, down to the wires connecting machinery.
Using money given to his son by the opposition Syrian National Council, he is trying to get the factory running again in time for pressing season.
On the other side of the village, a surgeon describes how the local hospital is struggling to cope under the pressure:
“They treat a lot of civilians of course, mainly, but they have ambulance for injured people who are critica," he reports. "For that we don’t have the facility - we don’t have an intensive care unit, we don’t have blood products, we don’t have enough monitoring, so they have to be shipped to Turkey.”
An ambulance driver who divides his time between transporting patients to Turkey for treatment and attempting to boost morale by leading protests, describes his lowest moment since the town was attacked:
“During the battle, this hospital was empty: all the doctors had run away. I treated seven people here, 21 were killed, all on the floor, in the corridors. I was forced to move the parts, the hands and the legs, on my own but I am not a doctor.”
“The revolution is taking a long time. We’d like it to be over,” comments another surgeon at the hospital.