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.
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)
BEFORE YOU GO
09/09/2012 12:25 PM EDT
Syria Blasts Aleppo By Air
09/05/2012 7:50 AM EDT
Syrian City In Flames
08/25/2012 1:45 PM EDT
Lebanese Pilgrim Freed
Hussein Ali Omar, 60, one of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims that Syrian rebels have been holding for three months in Syria, hugs his mother, right, upon arrival at his house in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, 2012. Syrian rebels freed Omar on Saturday in a move aimed at easing cross-border tensions after a wave of abductions of Syrian citizens in Lebanon. The Shiite pilgrims were abducted May 22 after crossing into Syria from Turkey on their way to Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
08/24/2012 12:22 PM EDT
This image made from video and released by Shaam News Network and accessed Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, purports to show the funeral of children in Daraya, near Damascus, Syria. Syrian troops backed by tanks and helicopters broke into a Damascus suburb on Thursday following two days of shelling and intense clashes as part of a widening offensive by President Bashar Assad's forces to seize control of parts of the capital and surrounding areas from rebel fighters, activists said. At least 15 people were killed in the offensive on Daraya, only a few miles (kilometers) southwest of Damascus. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network SNN via AP video)
08/24/2012 11:05 AM EDT
Lebanon Sees Heaviest Clashes In Months
Clashes between Assad supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime killed two people in Lebanon on Friday, the Associated Press reports. 17 people were injured.
The AP gives more context:
Syria was in virtual control of its smaller neighbor for many years, posting tens of thousands of troops in Lebanon, before withdrawing under pressure in 2005. Even without soldiers on the ground, Syria remains influential, and its civil war has stirred longstanding tensions that have lain under Lebanon's surface.
Read more on HuffPost World.
08/24/2012 11:02 AM EDT
A Sunni gunman fires a gun during clashes that erupted between pro and anti-Syrian regime gunmen in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. The latest round of fighting first erupted on Monday in northern Lebanon and at least 15 have been killed in Tripoli this week and more than 100 have been wounded in fighting that is a spillover from Syria's civil war. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
08/24/2012 11:00 AM EDT
Refugee Numbers Soar
@ KenRoth :
UN reports 200,000 #Syria refugees, 30,000 in past week alone. Many more internally displaced not counted. http://t.co/BaM6u59j
08/23/2012 2:00 PM EDT
Syrian boy Musataf Alhafiz, 11, who fled his home with his family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, carries his brother Saif, 9 months, while he and others take refuge at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing, in hopes of entering one of the refugee camps in Turkey, near the Syrian town of Azaz, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. Thousands of Syrians who have been displaced by the country's civil war are struggling to find safe shelter while shelling and airstrikes by government forces continue. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
08/23/2012 12:09 PM EDT
Heaviest Bombardment This Month
Helicopter gunships shelled Damascus on Wednesday as Syrian security forces intensified their assault on the capital. Activists report that at least 47 people were killed.
"The whole of Damascus is shaking with the sound of shelling," a woman in the neighborhood of Kfar Souseh told Reuters.
Read more on HuffPost World.