Why so many Syrians wish for rain
April 16th, 2013
10:00 AM ET

Why so many Syrians wish for rain

By Ole Solvang, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ole Solvang is an emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Last week, life changed for 12-year-old “Aziza.” She had just arrived at her grandparents’ apartment in Aleppo with her family when she heard the sound of a jet and then a huge explosion.

“Suddenly, it was all covered in dust,” Aziza said. “I heard my aunt screaming – she was calling for survivors, and then some men took me and my little sister out of the rubble. The wall and stairs were gone. They handed us over one to the other.”  Standing in the rubble of the destroyed house, Aziza, still in shock, told me two days after the attack that she and her younger sister survived only because they were playing in one of the interior rooms.

Four government bombs dropped on the Sukkari neighborhood on April 7 killed her mother, twin brother and two other close relatives, and seriously injured her father. Aziza and her family had already moved to a different neighborhood, but had come back briefly to get some of their belongings. Speaking to relatives and neighbors we collected information about 17 civilians who died in this attack, but there could be more since nobody has a complete list of casualties yet.

Life in Aleppo is not easy. People here have suffered from shortages of food, electricity and running water, and there has been little humanitarian assistance. The long, cold winter months were particularly rough. The only possible consolation was that there were fewer air strikes because of the cloudy, rainy weather. The government’s jets only seem to fly – and drop bombs – when the sky is blue.

More from CNN: Talk with Iran about Syria

With the end of winter, people are struggling to return to normal. Many have returned from surrounding villages or camps in Turkey or on the border. Unlike during past visits, this time I saw children playing football in the street, women shopping for produce in the outdoor markets, and at some point I was even stuck in a traffic jam in one of Aleppo’s main intersections. Numerous towns in northern Syria are similarly trying to return to a routine after fierce fighting forced government forces to withdraw several months ago. In many towns, local residents are trying to set up local governing councils, re-open schools, and appoint legal councils to deal with day-to-day disputes.

But the attempts to return to normal life are regularly disrupted in the most brutal and unpredictable way – strikes from government helicopters and fighter jets that kill and injure hundreds of people sometimes destroy entire blocks of houses and sow fear and despair. In many cases, there appear to be no possible military targets in the neighborhood, and the attacks appear indiscriminate or even as if they are deliberate attacks on civilians, both unlawful under international law. A Human Rights Watch report issued last week documents 59 of these unlawful air strikes in northern Syria. They started in July and are still going on, seemingly intensifying with sunny weather.

Some of the air strikes we documented seem to have deliberately targeted civilians. For example, repeated attacks on bakeries strongly indicate that the government intended to hit them. Hospitals seem to have been targeted as well. Government jets struck eight times on or near a main emergency hospital in the city of Aleppo, eventually putting the hospital out of service.  Other attacks we documented also took place near a hospital.

Attacks were unlawful in other ways as well. We identified 119 locations across Syria where the government used at least 156 cluster bombs, which are banned by a majority of countries in the world. The government used incendiary bombs, which produce extremely painful burns, often down to the bone, and can also cause respiratory damage.  And in most cases, the government used large unguided bombs that it was not able to target precisely. In the vast majority of the cases we documented, the strikes caused damage only to civilians and civilian property. Even when potential military targets were in the area, they weren’t damaged. For example, in one town I counted eight strikes around a house used by opposition fighters, but not a single one struck the house itself.

The people I interviewed in the Sukkari neighborhood feel abandoned. They told me that the international community is standing by as the Syrian government kills its own people. Indeed, the U.N. Security Council, blocked by Russia and China, has failed to meet its responsibility to protect the Syrian people from serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law such as by imposing an arms embargo on the Syrian government. But the Security Council’s impasse should not prevent concerned governments from stepping up their efforts to pressure the Syrian government to end these violations.

In the meantime, the people of Aleppo will continue to pray for rain and clouds in the hope that it will keep the fighter jets away.

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Topics: Syria

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soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. Xi Gua

    Operation Rolling Thunder woot

    April 16, 2013 at 11:53 am | Reply
    • SeeThruIt2

      Are you suggesting that the U.S. also conducted bombing raids as a means of intimidating the populace into withdrawing support of our enemies? Would that be similar to what the allies did in Dresden, Germany in attempting to create a firestorm to incinerate the university city?

      April 16, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Reply
      • Xi Gua

        Not really he he

        April 16, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
    • Listen up

      Why are the Syrian terrorists so angry at the United States? Instead of threatening and shaking their fists at the U.S. for not intervening, why don't they attack the Russians, Chinese, and Iranians for providing direct military aid to Assad?

      My opinion: let the two sides (both of them anti-American at their core) obliterate each other.

      April 16, 2013 at 10:42 pm | Reply
      • Andrey

        Posing yourself as terrorist adviser, instigator and hate monger? I doubt terrorists will take advice from dumb couch potato.

        April 16, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
      • Ragh

        I believe western countries should not intervene at all. Shia or Sunni , both are anti-western and anit-US. We have seen that in Iraq and Afghanistan/ Pakistan. So let them sort out each other and in the process , we might see millions dead. Iraq-Iran war over 10 years saw millions dead. Thats the nature of muslims, they breed fast, as they need lot of foot soldiers for their never ending wars with each other and with non-muslims.

        April 18, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Really

      "WH0PtHarRetiz" = Detroit Pistons = La Fiesta:)

      April 18, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Reply
      • Really

        SUPERSTehZionZ = Stevie Nickz;) = STEVIE WONDER = THE #1 MAN IN THE ENTIRE WORLD "BarR"None:)

        April 18, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • Really

      BaHaRAIN = BAHaAPigZ = CIA;)

      April 18, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Reply
  2. Dennis

    Why are they blaming Syrian government only? The terrorists kill and torture more civilians than any helicopter or bomber in Syria. There are Chechen, Turkish, Saudy and other Al Kaida rebels fight Syrian soldiers. Why not tell the whole truth?

    April 16, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Reply
    • Servio

      Because syrian govt = anti israel + pro iranian + pro palestianian. As such, the syrian government has always been shunned by western media. I have yet to see CNN report on suicide bombings, ethnic massacres, beheadings, that are being practiced by the fundamentalists who have joined the rebel forces. No report has been written on rebel forces entering minority villages and forcing them to leave without being allowed to take belongings with them. No report has been written on rebel forces taking over civilian buildings, threatening the tenants if they report them to the authorities. I am all for democaracy, but i assure you the rebel forces have no intent whatsoever to instill democracy. Rather, it's a democracy to instill a religious extremist government that will take away existing liberties from the people. If western media really cared to report about human rights abuses, they should start with countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Reply
      • nami

        indeed Servio, i think the west is more responsible for the killing in Syria, the west is trying to force a way of life that the people of syria and the entire region dont accept or ready for it. and that was the real intention. many people in the middle east dont think is that. they think the west is trying to cause a war between shiaa and sunni so both can be weakened and forget about Palestine and the Israeli conflicts and most of all to weaken the shiaa in the area to protect Israel from Hezbollah and Iran. there are many reads on to this, but it is clear that the west wants a the region that they can control and all for the benefits of Israel.. i think we are in a new cold war era sense the Russians appose everything the west is trying to do there and a counter measures have been taken by them. god helps

        April 16, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
      • Oivres

        Your claims about the Syrian government run contrary to reality.

        April 16, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
      • mazen

        Hello Servio , first of all the article is talking about the syrian rejime violations , not about Saudi nor Qatar , 2, you should know that AlAssad rejime made the upraising became armed , and the rejime itself who lead the country to this huge mass , ALassad didnt response to the popular demands , when the syrian people were demostrating for reforms and democracy, instead of hearing them he went throgh killing them , then if you really care about the syrians life you must admit that the majority of violation in syria are commited by alAssad rejime and shabeeha , then could i please ask you where is the minority villages that you talked about ?!!! please open your eyes properly ,these people who are dieing in Syria are humans not toys , and human rights issue is neutral issue , iam not saying that the syrian rebels are angels , ofcourse there is some violations here and there , but if you looked at the sky in syria , you will see jets belong to alAssad rejime try to kill Syrians !!!!

        April 17, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • nami

      good point Dennis, the most horrifying seen have been the results of what the so call FSA have been doing. and those are the one that the usa and the west support and diverting billions of dollars for weapon cost to them.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Reply
      • Sam

        What??????? 80% of the killings were done by the government. 95% of the horrible acts were done by the Shabbiha and the army. United nations, Human rights group all indicated the government committed far more crimes than the rebels. The crimes the rebels committed were against the killer army!!! Stop your LIES.
        The entire world knows the truth. CNN is showing the truth. ASSAD refuses to let MOST media in, because he wants to hide the TRUTH

        April 16, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
    • bezoz

      Because we still haven't learned our lesson from Afghanistan (1970's). When we armed a fundamentalist Islamist group to fight our enemy (the USSR back then).

      The FSA started with well-meaning people but quickly became a vicious killing machine funded by the Wahabis and Salafis hell bent on killing anyone who doesn't agree with their extreme form of Islam. Most moderate Muslims fear them but the amount of money and support they have now, along with Western support makes them unstoppable.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Reply
    • Marine5484

      Well said, Dennis. The right-wing media wants us all to think that only the Syrians loyal to the Assad regime are committing all the atrocities in that civil war. That simply is not the case!

      April 16, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Reply
      • Hez316

        There's a right wing media? My tv gets one rt wing channel and 5 going the other way

        April 16, 2013 at 6:27 pm |


      April 16, 2013 at 5:40 pm | Reply
    • Sam

      What? terrorists kill more than a fighter jet or a helicopter or a scud? Are you really that sick of a person?
      You are justifying the killing of civilians? what is wrong with you? Are you human or an animal?

      April 16, 2013 at 8:41 pm | Reply
    • Andrey

      Because they are not really FREE press and do as told?

      April 16, 2013 at 11:06 pm | Reply
  3. lewtwo

    '... strikes caused damage only to civilians and civilian property...'
    One needs to remember that the government forces consider civilians to be enemies.

    April 16, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Reply
    • nami

      wrong, they don't consider them enemy, is just the FSA is fighting near civilian area.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  4. TiredOfPaying

    You want an HONEST answer? We blame the Syrian government because:

    – historical support for our enemies (Hezbollah, Iran, insurgents in Iraq) means Syrian government is our enemy.
    – we really don't know who the rebels are – some may support democracy but others are al-queda. Meanwhile, Syran goverment is DEFINATELY

    April 16, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Reply
    • nami

      very trueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

      April 16, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Reply
    • Andrey

      Keep playing dumb: we do not really know... Those who do not want to hear should not be told. Do you ever have to look for answers, or you are fed them even before you get questions?

      April 16, 2013 at 11:10 pm | Reply
  5. Freedom Fascist

    NATO – Global Terrorists since 2001. Give your heads a shake people, the only terrorist government here is our government. Same story as Libya, asme story as Mali, same story as Egypt – this is spun propaganda with a sponsored agenda. Syrian military is the only thing protecting the people from Mossad and CIA terrorists who are r@ping, killing, bombing and enslaving. I hope Russia and China can save Syria. Then I hope Russia and China fire a strong enough warning shot across North America that our brain dead politicians get the point that this war is a)unjust b) uncalled for c) not wanted by anyone in the world except the politicians d) an excuse to do something about a petrodollar that is going to collapse into agonizing ruin. I know you are too stupid to face the truth America, they have designed you that way. Nothing will save you unless you can get some sunlight into your ignorant media convoluted minds. I guess the old saying is true...It's not Fascism when we do it. Shame.

    April 16, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Reply
    • Alex

      You must have taken a lot of acid growing up.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Thank you, Freedom Fascist. I couldn't have put it any better. I like the way these ignoramuses here show their own stupidity by ranting against your post above. If being stupid was a virtue, these guys would be living saints!

      April 16, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Reply
    • Andrey

      Relax: you are preaching to brain dead. US: land populated by Veggies!

      April 16, 2013 at 11:12 pm | Reply
  6. PD

    What a poor and naively written article. No matter what you feel about the civil war both sides are trying to kill the other side. They use the weapons they have available. The government forces are probably easier to identify as they probably wear uniforms. The article criticizes the use of bombs that aren't guided. What idiocy. They don't have them. But if they plan on fighting and winning they can only use what they have. So unlike the US and Israel for instance who use highly sophisticated weapons to try not to kill innocents, the syrian gov't just doesn't have the capability (CNN doesn't seem to congratulate Israel on their attempts mind you). Whether that would make a difference if they had the capability, who knows. Cluster bombs banned by most countries? Apparently Syria isn't one of them. So if most countries decided to ban AK47's then what would either side do? Basically both sides are using weapons to kill the other side. That is what happens in war. It's not pretty. A hole in the head from a rifle bullet is no better than that caused by bomb shrapnel. He also suggests that because he counted 8 bombs that didn't hit the nearby military target that they were purposefully hitting civilian targets. Guess what? They missed!! Stupid article!!

    April 16, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Reply
    • Andrey

      Naivity: that is the new CNN approved stile. A sociological study revealed that average American is most receptive to propaganda as targeting audience of 10 to 12 year-old.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:17 pm | Reply
  7. Paul G

    One little bomb goes off in Boston and all America is outraged, while innocent children are being killed daily in Syria by both sides.. the monsterous government regime and the radical blood thirsty "rebels"

    April 16, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Reply
    • Andrey

      Terrorists kill up to 40 civilians DAILY in US occupied Iraq: is anybody concerned?

      April 16, 2013 at 11:19 pm | Reply
      • Brandon

        I didn't realize Iraq was still "occupied" by the US. That's new to me and I'm in the US military.

        April 21, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
  8. AlFetah

    ALERT: Another propaganda article!!!!!!!!!! FACT: The Syrian government is supported by a major good portion of the Syrian people. The rebels rats also commit crimes, but these crimes are NOT reported by CNN.

    April 16, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Reply
  9. Alex

    The difference between human rights violations between the regime and the rebels is so significant it's almost sinful to put them in the same category. APPLES and french fries difference. The regime is no different than the former Libyan one and even worse as they have killed innocent lives for a longer period of time. Women, children, everyone.

    April 16, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  10. AlFetah




    April 16, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Reply
  11. Joe

    The US/West gets blamed if we do anything (i.e. Libya) and blamed for not doing anything (Syria). So, if they (both sides) want to commit genocide on each other in Syria, let them. Better than having more US troops get killed for people that could care less if they are there. This situation has nothing to do with the US/Nato and the West should do nothing but keeping the mess from spilling over the borders.

    April 16, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  12. Ed

    Just let them kill each other – Syria has not been an ally or friend of the U.S. and it will not change after this "revolution". When an enemy wants to kill an enemy – just let them go at it. As to civilians – well the civilians have always been killed in wars and "revolutions" and always will. Just let them go at it.

    April 16, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Reply
  13. Alger Dave

    A no-fly zone would largely prohibit government forces from these types of atrocities. It would be relatively easy to implement (with Turkey's help – who certainly would be on board and who's bases could be used) and would show Western support for the Syrian resistance. Syria's traditional allies have turned their back on the majority of Syrians in their lack of support for sanctions against the Syrian government – even as they know the Syrian government is doing these war crimes. Let's try the no-fly zone, and at least end this indiscriminate killing from the sky.

    April 16, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  14. AlFetah

    Alger Dave



    April 16, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Reply
    • David

      Where is it that you would like them to shove a no fly zone?

      April 16, 2013 at 6:35 pm | Reply
  15. John Janus

    Do syrian women swallow?

    April 16, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Reply
    • Jason

      No....but I am sure you and most western men do

      April 16, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Reply
      • George Davidson

        You wish your woman swallowed, Jason.

        April 17, 2013 at 8:58 am |
  16. ed dugan

    Until the rest of the Arab world decides to do something to Syria I don't give a damn what happens. Arabs are very good at keeping their mouths shut when other Arabs are acting like animals. You don't here the Arabs in America protesting about their fellow Arabs atrocities. Two faced people following a really stupid religion. They are getting wht they deserve.

    April 16, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  17. FHTEX

    This is the usual propaganda from CNN. It is illegal to try to force a regime change in a nation, which is what is occurringby the west and Turkey and the Gulf states. No matter–contrary to the article, the Syrian Arab Army has almost cleaned up the northern areas of rebel jihadist fighters and the conflict will be over soon.

    April 16, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Reply
  18. Oscar Pitchfork


    April 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Right, Oscar Pitchfork. Then we'll only have problems with the right-wing thugs in Washington ruling over everybody and making their lives miserable with a severe economic depression, unemployment and extreme poverty!

      April 16, 2013 at 5:55 pm | Reply
    • chris


      April 17, 2013 at 8:19 am | Reply
  19. j. von hettlingen

    Syria has been bombed to smithereens. Rain would no doubt provide for a respite.

    April 16, 2013 at 5:12 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      How long is Assad going to resist? He's like a desperate captain, trying to prevent his ship from sinking by throwing everything overboard.

      April 16, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Reply
      • Andrey

        Probably he decided to stick to his people: you will not understand that. Politicians always look for a compromise to benefit from or to save their own hide.

        April 16, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
  20. Ferhat Balkan

    Everyone knows by now that Assad will not step down. He has wrapped himself in a world of delusion and lust for power. Every day, innocent civilians are bombed or shot on the streets are in their homes. The whole world knows this and no one lifts a finger to help. The UN Security Council's failure to do it's job in this case is appalling and it shows that changes need to be made. I say where is the democracy when a few countries such as Russia and China (who only care about their pockets and arms sales) can veto a possible solution to what is now well known to be war crimes against humanity? It is time to make some fundamental changes in the UN where the majority vote wins and no one country has the ability to veto. Haven't the Syrian people suffered enough?

    April 16, 2013 at 7:40 pm | Reply
    • PD

      Try his for a UN change. Non-democratic countries, don't get a vote, can't participate, can only watch from the sidelines.

      April 16, 2013 at 8:50 pm | Reply
    • Andrey

      You are wrong: Assad has no illusions unlike ones that Mubarak had or any number of democracy-mongers like you. He knows what will happen if he betray his people and surrender his country to al-Qaeda. But I guess I should not waste my time on trying to introduce you to facts: I think you liberals had an altercation with Reality many years ago and did no see eye to eye ever since!

      April 16, 2013 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  21. Lucille

    What does this article have to do with the topic of rain? I'm not getting it.

    April 17, 2013 at 8:43 am | Reply
    • PD

      The planes don't fly and bomb in bad weather, rain. Paragraph four.

      April 17, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Reply
  22. George Davidson

    Aren't all arabs animals? When your dog gets out of line you put it down. US needs to obliterate the entire arab world. The Middle east needs to be wiped off the face of the earth. Everything from Egypt to Pakistan.

    April 17, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Reply
  23. david

    assad, Should get the same treatment as Kadaffy,And why are there no protester,s from other arab country,s, protesting all the atrocities going on in syria. Just goes to show you how much muslum,s take care of muslum,s.

    April 17, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  24. Denverboy1

    It is a intresting...that Syrian shake there heads at America but ignor the fact that Russia and Iran are the ones suppleying The Syrian Government with weapons to decimate it's own population...My fear is once the dust settles after this war...That the New Syrian Government..will call Russia and Iran its Friend while shunning America..SO the the war it's self will be for nothing in the long run ..New Puppets same MAsters...Just look at Egypt...The more Mosi tries to change the More he becomes like his predecessor....Nothing of real value changes in the Middle East because they lack the flexability of Mind free from RELIGIOUS contraints to make REAL change Happen...They simply reinvent the same ISLAMIC CODE over and over again they give it a differnt name but it's the same OLD junk thats been sitting in Political office since the Ottoman Empire....Lets see what AMerican equivalent do we have..Oh yea quasi religious cant seem to break OLD habits and repackages the same old tired ideas for Consumption and loves guns and violance...Hummmmmmm who could it be...Oh yea...THE GOP.....

    April 18, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  25. fair is fair

    While it may have been futile to pressure the Syrian government to cease their military action, no-one has thought it fit to put similar pressure on the rebels ( usually opposition parties are not gun-toting rebels, at least, not in democratic system). If the rebels are made to stop their offensive, and outside help is given to fight the rebels as it has been done in Mali, there is some hope the killing will stop.

    The only logical conclusion to be made is that some countries prefer the killing to continue if there is a chance that Assad will be forced to step down. These are the people responsible for playing games with the lives of human beings of another country.

    Stopping the killing + Assad in power : Not acceptable

    Allowing the killing to continue + chance that Assad will have to step down: The Preferred option.

    No moral high ground here I am afraid.

    April 19, 2013 at 4:13 am | Reply
  26. salino333

    Probably it is all about money! Why is such a peson like Assad still supported by allies? Why does he still find supporters in his own party? This all doesn't make sense! Syria used to be a very important religious place in the middle east and the crisis seems to be more than acts of terrorists and rebells, who can be silenced soon. The west seems to be frightened with a region in the middle east that is without a leader at all!
    It seems to be unfair, that Assad is coming away with it, that there is no outcry at the world-community and the global power-house not changing. Casualties and the death of some thousand civilians is not worth enough stopping sectarian and religious hatred motivated killings! There ought to be a Plan B!

    April 19, 2013 at 4:22 am | Reply
    • fair is fair

      Providing non lethal aid to the rebels, and the rebels are not happy with this. Maybe the allies are on Asad's side after all, they were on Sadam's side he was a good allly.

      What game are they playing here. These are the friends of Syria.

      April 21, 2013 at 8:23 pm | Reply
  27. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, B.A., J.D., S.P.J.

    The rebels should use laser pointers to blind govt pilots

    April 21, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Reply

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