On the afternoon of Wednesday January 2, two long lines formed in front of the Nawras gas station near the Syrian town of Maliha, one of cars and the other of people with empty gallons to fill with gas for their generators. Electricity is out most of the time in the area, as is gas.
The area is a semi-residential one, with some houses and villas on the road, a few hundred meters away from Maliha proper, which has several carpentries, warehouses and mechanical repair shops. Most of the people in line were locals, though some had been displaced from other areas wracked by severe fighting.
Dr. Ahmad is a field doctor in Ghouta who was heading toward the gas station when it was hit by a missile fired from an MiG warplane.
The doctor says it was by no means a mistake, as no sooner had they realized what had happened than two missiles hit the same location again.
The flames shot up to the sky and people who, up until moments earlier, had been complaining about the long wait, were burned alive. This is best illustrated by a video captured moments after the attack of a man engulfed in flames while still riding his motorcycle.
The doctor reached the location while people’s bodies were still burning and started providing them with first aid. He says he will never forget the sight of a man in his 50s who was glowing like burning coal. The doctor was unable to do anything for him, not even open a vein because there was no vein to be found. The man kept writhing in pain for a full hour before he finally died.
Ali, a field medic, was on the Maliha road about 600 meters away from the gas station when he heard the MiG zeroing in on its target. He rushed to the location of the attack, where cars were burning and body parts were scattered everywhere. Owners of nearby shops rushed to try and put out the fire before the gas tanks exploded. Ali says that the stench of death overpowered that of smoke and that most of those who had been waiting at the gas station were carbonized in a matter of minutes.
Ali initiated rescue attempts. Most of those present were, at first, unable to help the wounded as they were too shocked and horrified by what they saw.
The first man to whom Ali provided assistance was lying down and had to be transported in the same position due to the severity of his burns. He was pronounced dead by a doctor upon his arrival at a nearby medical assembly point. About an hour-and-a-half later, Ali learned that the dead man was his cousin. He had been identified by his brother only thanks to the remnants of his clothing.
According to another field activist, about 30 bodies were found piled up one on top of the other after they were pulled out of burning cars. It was impossible to distinguish one victim from another, as all were faceless.
Dozens of wounded began flooding the field hospital, but no single medical point could possibly accommodate so many and such severe cases, as most of the victims had third-degree burns. As usual, the doctors present were medical school students like Dr. Ahmad, as many of Syria’s established doctors have fled the country, leaving medical students to tend to the hundreds of dead and wounded the conflict produces every day.
The medics started sending the wounded to the closest field hospital in Ghouta. A barrel of explosives had also been thrown at several buildings in the area about two hours earlier.
The region has hosted more than 10,000 refugees, or around 1,800 families, from Homs, the Eastern Ghouta and other areas. Most of these people are displaced again now.