Sara Elizabeth Williams in Ramtha, Jordan and Tom Coghlan
Syrian helicopters yesterday dropped barrel bombs on a tented refugee camp close to the Jordanian border, killing and injuring dozens of people and drawing condemnation from Western aid agencies.
The attack near the village of Sharja, which is 2 kilometres inside Syria in Dera’a Province, killed at least 20 people according to local witnesses.
The overnight strike saw several high explosive barrel bombs dropped by helicopters.
“Women were wailing hysterically as they saw their dead children lying on the floor,” said Abu Mohammad al-Hourani, a farmer in the village who claimed he had helped remove bodies.
“We understand that a camp for people displaced by war was attacked, and MSF condemns the use of disproportionate force and any violence against civilian populations,” said Paul Foreman, the head of Medecins Sans Frontiere’s operations in Jordan after several of the injured reached an MSF facility across the border.
Photos and videos purporting to show the aftermath of the attack were posted to social media. They showed the bodies of women and children with devastating injuries. Several small children appeared to have had limbs crushed or severed — catastrophic blast injuries often associated with the use of barrel bombs.
In the past few months, hundreds of barrel bombs have killed thousands of people in Aleppo alone. Barrel bombs — dropped from helicopters by the Assad regime — are metal containers packed with explosives and shrapnel. They have been condemned by the international community because of the bombing of civilian areas.
Local officials said that the Sharja camp housed 300 internally displaced families in a disused school and nearby tents — a description backed by video footage. The camp is run by the Free Syrian Army and FSA fighters were among the casualties. Four casualties, including two children, were taken over the border to an MSF facility at Ramtha Government Hospital, about 3 kilometres south of the border. One was later transferred to another Jordan hospital for neurosurgery.
Over the past 10 months, Jordanian authorities have clamped down on the flow of Syrian refugees, hundreds of thousands of whom have already crossed the border. The Jordanian military closely guards the border in the more populated west, and only allows a small trickle to cross daily through one crossing point in the country’s far east, near the Iraqi border.
Even as the border has become almost impassable, the number of displaced people in southern Syria has mushroomed.
Unable to leave the country but desperate to escape the violence, many have sought shelter in camps adjacent to the border, such as the one attacked yesterday.
More than 160,000 people have been killed to date in Syria’s devastating three-year civil war.
Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported yesterday that it had gathered evidence to support claims by rebels that the Syrian government is continuing to use improvised chemical weapons — notably chlorine.
Rebels have alleged that more than a dozen small-scale chemical attacks using gas have been perpetrated this year.
“The information that was available to the fact-finding mission lends credence to the view that toxic chemicals —most likely pulmonary irritating agents, such as chlorine — have been used in Syria,” the group said.