Syrian fighter jet strafes farming village

TEL RIFAAT Thu Aug 9, 2012 4:26am EDT

TEL RIFAAT (Reuters) - The sandy color of the Syrian air force jet was visible as it circled overhead. Then a screaming nosedive and the orange flames of firing rockets on the farming village of Tel Rifaat.

This Reuters journalist saw the jet make at least a dozen rounds of the village of a few thousand people, 35km (20 miles) north of Aleppo city, firing missiles and mounted machine guns.

Villagers panicked - some tried to escape on motorbikes while other crammed belongings and bread into three-wheeled vans. They were unsure of where was safe to go.

Loud explosions rang out and black smoke billowed from an olive grove. A 12-wheeler truck was engulfed in flames.

Six children and a crying woman fled their tiny home. One woman held the Koran above her head, kissing it, and another banged her head in her hands.

Men came out of their homes to stare at the sky and throw their arms up in despair.

Abu Hassan, a rebel fighter from the Liwa al Fatah brigade, said the jets were targeting rebel bases in the area. "Four of our bases have been hit so far in and around Tel Rifaat," he said. Three rebels fighters fruitlessly fired an old anti-aircraft gun and a rifle at the speeding plane.

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad face guerrilla fighters hiding in farm houses, not a traditional army, and war has been brought to small villages like Tel Rifaat across the country.

Although the pilots seemed to know where the rebel bases were, their fire was often indiscriminate.

Cows ran and jumped as explosions hit fields, and panicked families took cover under olive trees. They looked almost as if they were out for a picnic, as they hid under the canopy of branches.

(Writing by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Pravin Char)