WORLDPOST

Syria Conflict: Anadan Turned Into Ghost Town After Shelling

08/09/2012 10:16 am ET | Updated Oct 09, 2012

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

ANADAN, Syria, Aug 9 (Reuters) - In this town near Aleppo, "Freedom Square" has been renamed "Destruction Square" by a young Syrian activist who once sang to protesters gathered for peaceful pro-democracy rallies.

The square in Anadan, along with the rest of what resembles a ghost town, bears the scars from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of military force to crush an opposition movement that has spawned an armed insurgency against his rule.

The 20-year-old anti-Assad singer, Hamza Ali Bin Ahmed, says thousands of protesters often packed the square. The microphone he used now lies in pieces, like many of the nearby buildings.

"They silenced us by shelling us," said Bin Ahmed, wearing a blue T-shirt and sports shoes. Only an occasional passing car or motorcycle broke the eerie quiet in the once-bustling town.

Some 30,000 people, or most of the population, have fled Anadan because of shelling and helicopter strikes, opposition sources said. Many headed towards the border with Turkey, some crossing over to join nearly 50,000 refugees already there.

Anadan appears to have come under very heavy artillery bombardment, according to satellite images released this week by London-based human rights group Amnesty International.

It said the images, obtained from commercial satellites over the July 23-Aug 1 period, showed more than 600 craters, probably from artillery shelling, dotting Aleppo's surrounding areas. The craters were represented with yellow dots in the images.

One snapshot, from July 31, showed craters next to what looked like a residential housing complex in Anadan, it said.

Aleppo, a few km (miles) from Anadan and Syria's largest city, has become a frontline in the struggle between Assad's forces and insurgents. Amnesty said both sides could be held criminally responsible for failing to protect civilians.

"As far as Assad is concerned, Anadan is a legitimate target," said Omar Hashoum, a rebel brandishing an AK-47 rifle as he stood by a green-domed mosque damaged by bombardment.

"ASSAD FOREVER"

Nearby, an unexploded mortar round lay on a street littered with spent bullet casings.

"Inside the town there is only the Free Syrian Army but it cannot guard against tank and artillery shelling or from air bombardment," said Hashoum as an air force jet flew overhead.

Assad's troops have overrun Anadan several times in recent weeks, but with bigger battles to fight in Aleppo they were nowhere to be seen when a Reuters team visited the town - a sign of the difficulty the overstretched Syrian military may be facing in keeping full control over restive areas.

Loyalist forces had left their mark on one wall, with the scrawled message "Assad forever or we will burn the country".

Abu Salameh, who identified himself as a rebel commander, said many of Anadan's fighters had joined the battle in Aleppo, helping provide supplies and take wounded fighters to Turkey.

"Anadan is the fountain of resistance," said Ismail Nassif, another insurgent. "We started in the hundreds, and then the whole of the province joined," he said.

Like many fighters, Nassif was a demonstrator who said he had taken up arms only after Assad used force on protesters.

"The revolution has changed a lot of people here," said Abdullah al-Arab, another rebel. "There were a lot of people who were spitting on us during early demonstrations but who are now with us and are joining the armed resistance."

Yet Bin Ahmed, the singer, recalls the days of peaceful protest fondly. "I will always regard myself as a singer of the revolution. God willing, I will get to sing again." (Editing by Tom Perry and Alistair Lyon)

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