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'Barrel bombs' just another symbol of brutality in Syrian civil war

DAMASCUS — In this war where children are being brutalized by both sides, "barrel bombs" have become a trademark of the conflict.Dropped from low-flying helicopters on civilian streets in the northern city of Aleppo, the bombs are crudely packed with nails, gasoline and TNT.Over the weekend, children as young as one were killed by the inaccurate but lethal weapons. "A helicopter came, and sudde

DAMASCUS — In this war where children are being brutalized by both sides, "barrel bombs" have become a trademark of the conflict.

Dropped from low-flying helicopters on civilian streets in the northern city of Aleppo, the bombs are crudely packed with nails, gasoline and TNT.

Over the weekend, children as young as one were killed by the inaccurate but lethal weapons. 

"A helicopter came, and suddenly out of nowhere a barrel hit this area. About 30 people died, including women and children who were waiting their turn so they can get the bread," said one witness, who claimed the attacks came while food was bring distributed.

More than 100 people have been killed in three days of barrel bomb attacks by Syrian army helicopters, aid group Doctors Without Borders said on Tuesday. 

"For the past three days, the helicopters have been targeting different areas, among them a school and the Haydarya roundabout, where people wait for public transport vehicles," said Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa, Syria coordinator for the group. 

"Repeated attacks often lead to chaos and make it more difficult to treat the wounded, therefore increasing the number of fatalities," he said in a statement

The bombs terrorize families, but in this increasingly dirty war, fear stalks both sides.

Damascus is teeming with rumors of atrocities carried out by extremists in opposition groups; of jihadists going house to house picking out people to execute and of civilians used as human shields.

In a Damascus market, the sound of explosions can be heard even as people go about their everyday lives. A few weeks ago, a mortar bomb, likely fired by opposition forces, landed on the market, injuring a restaurant owner.

But "we’re not scared," said one woman.

Yet, privately, the residents of Damascus share bloodcurdling stories. One describes how a man in the Adra area is said to have been so terrorized by extremists that he detonated a hand grenade, killing his own wife and child. He was determined that they would not become victim to ruthless killers.

He’s said to have phoned a friend as he was dying, but there’s no way of knowing whether the stories like this one are true or just macabre additions to the rumor mill.

Little wonder that for many this city is not a home but rather the place they fled to when their towns or villages were overrun by rebels.

"It's the fear. It's the fear of when the conflict will come to them. It's the fear of what will happen to their family, the children, the women," said Sanj Srikanthan, emergency deputy field director for the International Rescue Committee.

"Nobody in Syria knows where the  conflict is going to strike next," he added. "It’s not like a traditional war with front lines. It can hit your village, can hit your town, wherever you might be — and it's indiscriminate in who it's hitting."

War is now part of life in Damascus. That means there are regular power cuts, which barely faze residents, and in the market where the mortar fell a week ago, parents now bring their children to shop for sweets.

In the lobby of one of Damascus' major hotels a tape of Christmas carols is on repeat, but the suburbs are under siege, and other parts of the ancient city have been reduced to rubble.

Syria remains a broken country, and across the divide are civilians on both sides who are terrified. More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the revolt against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011, according to the latest U.N. death toll issued in July. 

Reuters contributed to this report

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