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Mangled heaps of metal stretch for hundreds of metres (yards) from a crater in what was an olive grove in northwestern Syria. Rebels say they now face a new enemy: Scuds.According to the insurgents, at least six surface-to-surface missiles, which they believe to be Scuds, crashed in and around Sheikh Suleiman army base on Monday and Tuesday, an army garrison seized by Al-Nusra Front jihadists.
An AFP correspondent visited the spot where one of the missiles struck near the base, just outside the town of Darret Ezza.
The soil was strewn with piles of sharp, twisted metal. The stone walls that define these rocky hills and olive groves were reduced to rubble.
“There were 31 olive trees here, now they’re all gone,” said the owner of the land who came to inspect the damage, despite the danger of landmines left behind by the army.
“Stones the size of a man flew into the sky like they were pieces of gravel,” said the mustachioed farmer as one of his children picked up the body of a dead bird.
All the trees were decapitated. About 300 metres away, part of the facade of an ancient but sturdy barn had collapsed.
Fortunately for the residents of Darret Ezza, the missile landed nearly two kilometres (1.2 miles) away, but the windows of many houses were blown out by the impact.
The explosions rattled the whole town and could be heard throughout the region, but no one was killed, according to local Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters.
Their commander, Abu Jalal, insisted the missiles were Scuds, despite firm denials from Damascus.
“The regime media has already justified the bombing by arguing that the rebels in this area had dangerous weapons including chemical components,” he said.
An AFP journalist in Darret Ezza on Monday heard a very strong explosion at the time when one of the missiles hit the area, but was unable to determine the exact origin.
Several residents, including local FSA officer Abu Raji, said the firing of surface-to-surface missiles began two weeks ago, after rebels shot down two army aircraft raiding the area around the base.
“There were other three explosions like this, but they were less powerful,” said Abu Raji.
Local residents said it was irrelevant whether they were Scuds of another type of missile. “We live in fear that next time the missiles will land on the town,” said Abu Jalal.
A US official told AFP on condition of anonymity on Wednesday that Scud missiles had been used in Syria. However, a security source in Damascus said the army had used a smaller, Syrian-made version of the Scud.