AZAZ, Syria – There were a few scattered reminders of whose room it had been before the bombs hit — a framed picture of Barbie and another of a kitten with a pink bow still hanging on the cracked plaster wall, a doll and two teddy bears resting on a pile of rubble.
The house was one of more than a dozen in the al-Harah al-Qibiliyah neighborhood in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, to be destroyed in an Aug. 15 airstrike. Survivors and rights groups say more than 40 people, including children and old people, were killed.
On his first trip back to his brother's home, Mahmoud Makour sifted through the rubble of what remained. He collected the stuffed animals and a few Lego pieces that belonged to his 11-year-old niece, Sara, and his 1 ½-year-old nephew, Youssuf, and set them aside. Both children, along with their mother, were killed in the air raid, he said.
"Are these the toys of terrorists?" Makour asked. "That war criminal Youssuf, he was a war criminal! He was a year and a half old. He was conspiring against (President) Bashar Assad, that child!"
He then gently placed the toys on a slab of debris, unsure what to do with them next.
Over the past week, survivors and relatives have returned daily to collect from the rubble what can be salvaged. They also relive the day of the airstrike.
As Ahmad Khairo tells it, he had just returned home from his barber shop when the bombs hit.
"As I stepped into my house I felt the ground shaking under my feet and the door opened by itself and I fell to the ground," the 37-year-old said. "I heard the sound of my wife screaming."
He picked himself up and rushed inside to check on his family. His mother was unconscious. After she came to, she quickly recited the Muslim declaration of faith.
"She thought it was the apocalypse," Khairo said.
Youssuf Dannoun used to own a clothes shop, but has been unemployed since he stopped paying rent on the store and people stopped worrying about buying clothes. With a bloody civil war engulfing the country, survival now takes precedence.
On the day of the airstrike, Dannoun recalls being with his wife on the roof of their one-story house while he fixed their water barrel.
"Suddenly I noticed the jets and within few seconds, a light followed by dust and enormous pressure threw me back from the roof onto the ground," he said. "My wife tried to hold onto a metal bar, which went through her arm, but luckily she was lightly injured and I was hurt in my leg but nothing serious."
Dannoun, his wife and four children all survived the bombing.