Editor's note: Please be advised that there are some graphic images in the above collection.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Civilian deaths have sadly become routine in Syria, but they are not always powerfully photographed and presented to Western readers — despite a nearly constant flow of cell phone images out of the country.
Abdullah Omar is 20 years old, and works as a translator. On Sunday, he became one of the many amateur photographers of the Syrian conflict when a devastating car bomb went off in the Syrian border-town of Atmeh, damaging the hospital where he works. Omar also witnessed the strange scene that followed, as those rushing to help quickly turned on one another — a reminder of the complexity and deep divisions among Syria’s rebel factions. He has given GlobalPost permission to publish the photos he took.
The blast killed 14 and injured at least 60. Five houses were completely destroyed while countless other homes, businesses and a local hospital 250 meters from the blast suffered damage. Among the dead was a baby — just months old — along with the baby’s mother and brother. Omar's pictures show the boy being rushed from the scene. Tragically he died shortly after on route to hospital. A woman in purple, the boy's grandmother, was injured in the blast. A picture shows her shoeless and in shock as her son, who had just lost his entire family, attempts to console her.
"At least 14 were killed in this massacre. We, and the other hospital, did refer some patients to Turkey due to critical injury so we don't know anything about these patients yet. Maybe this number is higher now," Omar said.
As with so many tragedies in Syria, it is not yet clear who is responsible.
Atmeh, whose pre-conflict population was just 5,000, is now home to anestimated 30,000 displaced Syrians who live in tents along the Turkish border. In addition to refugees, the town's population is augmented by rebel groups ranging from secular Free Syrian Army to al Qaeda-affiliated extremist groups and foreign jihadists that use the unofficial border crossing to bring in reinforcements and supplies.
In recent months the town fell largely under the control of notorious extremist group ISIS. But as 2014 began, an Islamic coalition that includes al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al Nusra joined forces to oust ISIS from Atmeh, Aleppo and other areas of Northern Syria. They now control the town along with groups from the FSA. While no one has claimed responsibility for the blast, many are blaming ISIS. Others blame the Syrian regime.
"Everybody is blaming ISIS, not because they are who did it but because they are like the government — they are easy to blame. But nobody knows the truth,” said Basel Almasri, a Syrian refugee now working on rehabilitation for injured Syrians in Turkey and Syria.
Witnesses said foreign and local fighters from extremist groups were the first on the scene to assist the injured. But the frantic and tragic atmosphere led to accusations as FSA members arrived. Omar described how shots were fired in the air as extremist fighters, in particular non-Syrians, were chased from the scene.
"They blame all the foreigners," Omar said referring to foreign jihadist fighters. "In the first place they blame ISIS and they're saying maybe it was done by the defected ISIS troopers who joined al Nusra recently after their problems."
Locals say the atmosphere in Atmeh remains tense. The brief unity between the various rebel factions that prevailed over ISIS has been dealt a blow. Distrust is high.
To date, the Syrian conflict, which is about to enter its third year, has killed more than 140,000 and displaced over nine million Syrians. While 2.5 million live as refugees in neighbouring countries, a further 6.5 million have fled areas of heavy conflict to towns like Atmeh and now live in appalling conditions in tents or in over-crowded homes, according to USAID figures.