Skip to main content

Fire fell 'like rain' in Syria

By Bharati Naik and Atika Shubert, CNN
October 12, 2013 -- Updated 1051 GMT (1851 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eyewitnesses of the attack: Incendiary like devices dropped from a government fighter
  • These are "any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects"
  • Rola Hallam treated victims, some of whom suffered burns over 80% of their bodies

(CNN) -- It started with a baby.

Within minutes, dozens of teenagers and children staggered into an emergency room on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria.

Rola Hallam, a British Syrian doctor, describes what she saw there in late August while working with the charity Hand in Hand for Syria.

"We had had, you know, over 30 who had arrived, all within about 10 or 15 minutes, all with just heartbreaking, extensive burns," she said.

The patients were victims of an August 26 attack in Awram al-Koubra, outside Aleppo, where eyewitnesses described incendiary like devices being dropped from a government fighter jet onto a private residence, and then a school.

Syria said to be 'cooperative'
Syria begins to destroy chemical weapons
Syrian refugees haunted by shelling
In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
Syrian civil war in photos
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Syrian civil war in photos Syrian civil war in photos

Incendiary bombs are not chemical weapons, but their effects can be just as devastating.

Syria: Chemical weapons team faces many dangers, says U.N. chief Ban

They are identified as "any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons through the action of flame, heat, or combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target," according to the United Nations.

British emergency doctor Saleyha Ahsan describes them in less clinical terms, in the terms of her patients.

"The descriptions were fire falling like rain, just falling like rain, plumes of flames and then balls of flames falling out of the sky," she said.

"Their clothes had just been stripped off them from the power of heat and the incendiary device, covered in burns and some of them very shocked and quiet, and not sure where they were and what was going on."

Read more: Refugees inside their own war-torn country

The day of the attack, she, Hallam and others treated about 40 victims, some of whom suffered burns over 80% of their bodies.

By chance, the doctors were filming with the BBC's Panorama program to highlight medical conditions in Syria. The cameras kept rolling as patients poured in.

'I wanted their faces seen'

The video is disturbing to watch. It shows people sitting on the floor, their skin peeled and hanging like ripped clothes.

'I felt like I was in a horror show or something on a movie set. It was so surreal," said Hallam.

"All walking in, with a really bewildered look on their face, an absolutely awful smell of burning flesh mixed with a very weird synthetic smell that I've never smelled before."

WMD: From A-bombs to pressure cookers

Eights students died in the attack and 50 other people suffered burns, according to the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry, which investigates alleged violations of human rights law in Syria. It will issue a report next month.

The United Nations says more than 100,000 people, including civilians, have been killed since the start of the country's two-year-old civil war. Conventional, not chemical weapons, are believed to be responsible for the vast majority of those deaths.

Both Hallam and Ahsan said they would expect very few of their patients to survive for any amount of time.

"I wanted their faces seen," Hallam said.

"I wanted the whole world to know that what is happening in Syria is happening, and I don't want anyone to say I never knew because you all know. And the world needs to act."

CNN's Dana Ford contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1248 GMT (2048 HKT)
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 2133 GMT (0533 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1141 GMT (1941 HKT)
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 2117 GMT (0517 HKT)
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 2025 GMT (0425 HKT)
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT)
What caught our experts' ears was as much about what he didn't address as much as what he did.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1019 GMT (1819 HKT)
The three-year war in Syria has claimed 162,402 lives, an opposition group said Monday, as the raging conflict shows no signs of abating.
May 31, 2014 -- Updated 0141 GMT (0941 HKT)
Official: The U.S. believes a jihadi featured in a suicide bombing video in Syria is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha who grew up in Florida.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
For the first time, Britain has convicted someone of a terrorism offense related to the Syrian civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT