Middle East reporter Rania Abouzeid takes a closer look at the chaos in Syria for TIME in her most recent piece. Through the personal accounts of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Abouzeid strings together more details of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s violent attempts at maintaining order in a fragmenting country. But in addition to stories of protesters mowed down with machine guns, refugees recount tales of fearless Red Crescent volunteers and several hundred soldiers who defected to try and protect ordinary citizens. Abouzeid writes:
Abu Taha remembers helicopters roaring overhead last Sunday as he scrambled to save the “hundreds” of wounded he saw mowed down in Jisr al-Shughour’s public garden. He says up to 10,000 people were gathered in the space, after burying a young man, Basil al-Masry, who was killed by security forces the day before. “The garden was packed, we were shoulder to shoulder. Then the bullets started raining down on people from all of the government buildings around the garden,” Abu Taha told TIME from his hospital bed in Antakya. “They were shooting from helicopters, using machine guns with 14.5 caliber bullets. Do you know what a bullet like that does to a human body?” Abu Taha does. A day earlier, he says he saw a man with his skull split open by such a bullet in front of the Post Office building adjacent to the garden.
On that Sunday, the killing was indiscriminate and widespread, according to information independently obtained from more than half a dozen Syrians who have recently fled from Jisr al-Shughour into Turkey. The townsfolk scurried along two side streets leading away from the garden, as security forces in the buildings shot into the crowd from above. “I was bending down to pick up a man who’d been shot,” Abu Taha says. “The bullet came through my chest. I collapsed on top of him.” His colleagues, who were also in Red Crescent uniforms, administered first aid. That’s all he remembers. He didn’t see any wounded soldiers, only civilians, and doesn’t remember travelling to Turkey.
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