September 21, 2012 - Syrian Planes Said to Strike Gas Station: At least 30 people, and possibly dozens more, were killed in Syria on Thursday in northern Raqqa Province when government warplanes bombed a gas station crowded with cars and people, according to a witness at the scene and activist groups.
The witness said the gas station was on the outskirts of Ayn Issa, a town near a border post with Turkey that Syrian opposition fighters had stormed two days ago.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain with a network of contacts in Syria, said 110 people were killed or wounded.
If verified, the bombing would be one of the worst casualty tolls from the Syrian military’s use of aircraft in its effort to crush the armed insurgency. Stretched thin by a persistent, far-flung rebellion, and facing greater challenges from improvised bombs on Syria’s roads, the military has increasingly relied on warplanes and helicopters to extend its reach.
On Thursday, one of those helicopters crashed near a suburb of Damascus that has been the site of persistent fighting between insurgents and government forces, according to Syrian officials.
The official Syrian news agency said the helicopter’s rotors had clipped the tail of a Syrian Air passenger jet with 200 people aboard. It said that the jet then landed safely at the Damascus airport and no one was injured. But an activist in Damascus said a rebel battalion had shot down the helicopter, which crashed near a salt factory near the town of Douma.
Pictured above, a government warplane flew near Aleppo on Wednesday.
It was unclear whether anyone aboard the helicopter was killed or injured.
While rebels claim to have brought down planes in the past, the authorities routinely attribute such crashes to mechanical failure.
At the Hisham gas station near the Turkish border, an activist who went to the scene said that the station was crowded with cars when the bombs fell.
He said the warplanes had dropped so-called barrel bombs, an improvised government weapon filled with TNT that opposition fighters have claimed the military is deploying with greater frequency.
The activist’s claim was impossible to verify. The weapons are something of a mystery, though there have been attempts to document their use over the last few weeks, including by Brown Moses Blog, which collects and analyzes video evidence from the war, and has collected possible instances of the barrel bomb’s use.
Videos that were said to be of the gas station after the bombing showed at least two shallow craters in the ground, encircled by a ring of destruction, including smoldering trucks with their doors flung open and a burned-out tractor. Credits: Hania Mourtada and Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York for the New York Times.
The Master of Disaster