A Syrian warplane bombed a popular market in Rastan city on Wednesday, killing more than 20 civilians and injuring 50 more, as nearby hospitals struggled to absorb the large number of wounded.
The attack occurred near the city’s southern entrance, located next to a popular market. The high casualty count resulted in part because buses ferrying Rastan residents home from regime-controlled areas were arriving as the bombing struck.
Airstrikes pounded areas across the northern Homs countryside last week. First response teams struggled to coordinate to evacuate the wounded from targeted areas in Rastan, Talbisa, and al-Zafrana, a volunteer with the Civil Defense told the Syrian Voice.
“I was waiting for the buses coming back from Homs, they were carrying my son, brother, and nephew, and as they began to enter the city the place was hit by an airstrike, one of which struck a bus directly–my brother and his son are among the wounded,” Mohammed Abu Hussein, a Rastan resident, told the Syrian Voice, the anger in his voice palpable.
“My brother was convinced by the regime’s opening of the al-Dark al-Kabira crossing, so he went to Homs to get some vegetables, bread, and other things he can’t buy here in the countryside because of how expensive everything is,” said Abu Hussein.
“Instead of paying higher prices, he paid with a war injury!”
The Rastan hospital was unable to absorb the large number of wounded in part because of a lack of equipment, so first response teams were forced to move a number of cases to hospitals in al-Zafrana and Talbisa. Specifically, the Rastan hospital lacked “materials that are used in surgeries, and to keep bones in place, and to perform amputations,” an employee told the Syrian Voice.
The Civil Defence and first response team with the Red Crescent worked for several hours to evacuate all the wounded, and to save those who were trapped under the rubble.
“This first response operation was the hardest we’ve ever faced,” a volunteer with the Civil Defense told the Syrian Voice.
“To start there were so many wounded, and we needed to move them from one place to another, because the hospitals were full, or unable to provide adequate care.”
First response teams lacked necessary equipment and manpower during the operation: they needed a “rapid-response team with heavy machinery, bulldozers to open up the main road, and more first responders,” said the volunteer.
“Bread mixed with blood–that is one of the hardest things an ambulance worker can see while he’s evacuating the wounded,” said the volunteer. He added that most of the dead and injured were trying to buy bread and vegetables, and were set to return to their homes, happy, before that joy was cut short.
Rastan city, along with a number of villages in the Northern Homs countryside, has been encircled by regime forces for more than three years. Food and medical aid rarely enters the besieged city.
The regime recently signed an agreement with rebel brigades, through mediators, to open up the al-Dar al-Kabira crossing, in return for rebels allowing the regime to use the Homs-Misyaf road, one the most important in Syria that the rebels had cut off years ago.
The last humanitarian aid convoy to enter Rastan was in March 2016, and contained some medical equipment like syringes, but lacked critical surgical and first response supplies that residents so desperately need.