Weeks later, the group’s founder, Sami Ibrahim, estimated that 600,000 more buildings had been shelled or bombed, as the government of President Bashar Assad escalated its campaign with daily airstrikes by helicopter and warplane. The rebels are fighting back, claiming to have captured half a dozen military bases in recent weeks in eastern and northwestern Syria and around Damascus. On Monday, they said they captured a hydroelectric dam in northern Syria.

Although the toll on structures is impossible to verify, the weapons the government is turning against civilian populations have become increasingly destructive, activists say, with TNT barrel bombs and vacuum bombs wiping out entire buildings in one blow.

On streets once lined with multistory buildings and mosques, ceilings lie pancaked atop smashed and dusty home furnishings and appliances. Electrical wires hang like carelessly strung streamers across concrete columns strewn with antigovernment graffiti.

Roads in front of gutted shops have become impassable for the sheer amount of rubble…

“The regime has said many times, ‘Either Assad stays, or we will destroy the country,'” Ibrahim said. “It is obvious that it is punishment.”