Syria: Barrage of Barrel Bombs

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<p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-margin-top-alt:auto;mso-margin-bottom-alt:auto;
mso-outline-level:6"><span style="font-family:Arial;mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"">Attacks on Civilians
Defy UN Resolution

<span style="font-family:Arial;mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"">The Syrian government is raining high
explosive barrel bombs on civilians in defiance of a unanimous United Nations
Security Council resolution, Human Rights Watch said today. Resolution 2139 of
February 22, 2014, ordered all parties to the conflict in www.hrw.org/middle-eastn-africa/syria to end the
indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons in populated areas.

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<span style="font-family:Arial;mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"">The Security Council met on July 30 for
its fifth round of reporting on the resolution. Since it was passed, Human
Rights Watch has documented over 650 major new damage sites consistent with
barrel bomb impacts on neighborhoods of the city of Aleppo held by non-state
armed groups. Non-state armed groups participate in indiscriminate attacks as
well, including car bombings and mortar attacks in pro-government areas.

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“Month after month, the Security Council has sat idly by as the government
defied its demands with new barrel bomb attacks on Syrian civilians,” said www.hrw.org/bios/sarah-leah-whitson,
Middle East and North Africa director. “Russia and China need to allow the
Security Council to show the same resolve and unanimity it brought to the issue
of humanitarian aid to call a halt to these deadly attacks on civilians.”



The UN resolution also strongly condemns the arbitrary detention and torture of
civilians in Syria, as well as kidnappings, abductions, and forced
disappearances, and demands that “all parties, in particular the Syrian
authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for
UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, including across
conflict lines and across borders.” When Syria failed to comply with that
demand, the Security Council, in a July 14 follow-up resolution, authorized UN
agencies and their implementing partners to deliver humanitarian assistance
across the border even without government consent.



Witness statements, satellite imagery analysis, and video and photographic
evidence obtained by Human Rights Watch indicate that government forces have
maintained and even increased their bombardment rate of Aleppo since the
Security Council passed the resolution in February. In the 113 days prior to
the February resolution, Human Rights Watch www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/24/syria-unlawful-air-attacks-terro
at least 380 distinct damage sites in areas held by non-state armed groups in
Aleppo by analyzing four satellite images recorded over the city since October
31, 2013.



In the first 140 days since the resolution was passed, through July 14, 2014,
Human Rights Watch identified over 650 new major impact strikes in Aleppo
neighborhoods held by armed groups opposed to the government, an average of
almost five a day. The heaviest concentrations were in the neighborhoods of
Masaken Hanano, al-Sakhour, Bostan Pasha, Sheikh Kheder, Trab al-Hellok,
Aynat-Tal, Rasafeh, and Sheikh Saed.



A substantial majority of these sites have damage that is strongly consistent
with the detonation of barrel bombs. Barrel bombs, and other high explosive
unguided bombs, tend to create larger zones of building destruction than is
typically seen with other types of air strikes and artillery fire, often with
irregularly shaped blast craters of shallow depth with scalloped edges.

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<span style="font-family:Arial;mso-fareast-font-family:
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neighborhood in Aleppo City<span style="font-family:Arial;
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<span style="font-family:Arial;mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"">Al-Ansari Mashad
neighborhood in Aleppo City<span style="font-family:Arial;
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<span style="font-family:Arial;mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"">These unguided high explosive bombs are
cheaply made, locally produced, and typically constructed from large oil drums,
gas cylinders, and water tanks, filled with high explosives and scrap metal to
enhance fragmentation, and then dropped from helicopters. The damage to a small
number of the identified sites was probably caused by other explosive weapons,
either bombs delivered by conventional aircraft or prolonged artillery
shelling. There is also strong evidence that government forces on the ground
have fired hundreds of mortars and heavy artillery shells during this period,
Human Rights Watch said.



A member of the local civil defense forces in Aleppo who participates in rescue
operations, and who has access to a database of attacks in the area compiled by
civil defense teams on the ground, told Human Rights Watch that one of the
deadliest recent barrel bomb attacks in the city was in the al-Sukari
neighborhood on June 16. He estimated that the attack killed about 50
civilians. The Violations Documentation Center, a local group, has identified
68 civilians killed in aerial attacks in al-Sukari on that day. Several videos
published on YouTube show the destruction following the bombing and some of the
killed and injured.



The member of the local civil defense forces said that an attack on the
al-Shaar neighborhood on July 9 killed approximately 20 civilians. The
Violations Documentation Center has identified 10 civilians killed in al-Shaar
from aerial attacks on that day. Videos posted on YouTube show the destruction
following the bombing and some of the victims of the attack.



Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that bombings had continued since the
Security Council passed the February resolution. Human Rights Watch previously
documented 10 air strikes using barrel bombs after February 22 that killed over
150 people. In 11 new barrel bomb strikes in Aleppo and the surrounding
countryside, evidence compiled by Human Rights Watch from witnesses, published
fatality figures, and videos and photographs indicates that at least 178 people
were killed.



The Violations Documentation Center www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/martyrs/1/c29ydGJ5PWEua2lsbGVkX
that aerial attacks killed 1,655 civilians in the Aleppo governorate between
February 22 and July 22.



The deliberate targeting of civilians is a war crime, and if carried out in a
widespread or systematic way as part of a policy of the government or an
organized group, can amount to crimes against humanity. Military commanders
should not, as a matter of policy, order the use of explosive weapons with
wide-area effects in populated areas due to the foreseeable harm to civilians,
Human Rights Watch said.



By using barrel bombs on densely populated areas, Syrian government forces are
using means and methods of warfare that do not distinguish between civilians,
who are accorded protection under the laws of war, and combatants, making
attacks indiscriminate and therefore unlawful.



In its February 22 resolution, the Security Council explicitly expressed “its
intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance with this
resolution.”



Russia and China, who have repeatedly blocked Security Council action aimed at
penalizing the Syrian government for its rights abuses, should allow the
Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Syria’s government, as well as on
any groups implicated in widespread or systematic human rights abuses, Human
Rights Watch said. Such an embargo would limit the Syrian government’s ability
to conduct aerial attacks that violate international law, including by ensuring
that Syria does not receive new helicopters or have its current helicopters
serviced overseas. Russia and China should also allow the Security Council to
impose a travel ban and an asset freeze on individuals credibly implicated in
grave abuses, and refer the situation to the International Criminal Court,
Human Rights Watch said.



Companies and individuals that provide arms, ammunition, or materiel to Syria,
or to non-state armed groups that have been implicated in crimes against
humanity or war crimes, risk complicity in these crimes, Human Rights Watch
warned.



Under international law, providing weapons to forces or armed groups in Syria
knowing that they are likely to be used in the commission of war crimes or
crimes against humanity may amount to assisting in the commission of those
crimes. Any arms supplier could bear potential criminal liability as an
accessory to those crimes and could face prosecution, Human Rights Watch said.



On September 27, 2013, the Security Council acted to bring an end to the use of
chemical weapons in Syria. While the unlawful use of chlorine gas has been
documented since that time, the red line the Security Council drew has led to
the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, and radically
diminished the risk to the civilian population from that threat.



“Barrel bombs, car bombs, and indiscriminate mortar fire are killing thousands
of Syrians – many times the number of those who lost their lives in chemical
weapon attacks, “ said Whitson. “What will it take to get Russia and China to
allow the Security Council to enforce its own words, and take real steps to
address these unlawful attacks?”



Attacks on Aleppo

The neighborhoods in northern Aleppo with the highest concentration of damage
sites as reflected in the May 2014 through June satellite imagery are at some
distance from front-line positions, with a high density of residential
buildings. While many residents have been displaced from these areas, those who
cannot afford to leave or do not want to abandon their homes have stayed
behind. Some of the areas most affected in southern Aleppo, however, including
the Masaken Hanano and Sheikh Saed neighborhoods, have become front-line areas,
the member of the civil defense forces who is active in the area told Human
Rights Watch.



The Syrian government has made recent advances in its offensive to take eastern
parts of Aleppo and the surrounding countryside. In early July the government
retook the city of Sheikh Najjar to the northeast of Aleppo. According to news
reports the government has also taken control of the villages of al-Rahmaniya,
al-Muqbilla, al-Sheikh Ziyad, Kafer Saghir, and Tel Shaeer in the northeast. In
June government forces also took the villages of Ain Assan, Rasm Bakro, Rasm
al-Khanat, Rasm al-Jdeideh, and Azzan, south of Aleppo, SANA, Syrian state
media reported. In mid-May the government regained control of Aleppo central
prison.



Human Rights Watch has also received reports of what appears to be
indiscriminate shelling by non-state armed groups opposed to the government of
the villages of al-Zahraa and Nubul in the Aleppo countryside. The villages,
whose residents are Shia, are under siege and have been hit with an improvised
rocket fitted with a gas canister – locally referred to as “hell’s cannon” –
and other locally produced rockets since the passage of the resolution.



Human Rights Watch has previously documented numerous indiscriminate attacks by
non-state armed groups in violation of resolution 2139. Jabhat al-Nusra, an
extremist Islamist group opposed to the Syrian government, has claimed responsibility
for car bombings including in Homs that killed dozens of people. Other armed
groups have carried out car bomb attacks in populated areas as well. Human
Rights Watch has collected evidence of many mortar strikes originating from
territory held by armed groups that have killed civilians in Damascus and Homs
neighborhoods under government control.



Handarat Neighborhood, March 4

On the morning of March 4, a barrel bomb struck the Handarat neighborhood of
Aleppo. Elias, a 17-year-old boy who was injured in the attack, told Human
Rights Watch that he was getting bread from the local bakery when the barrel
bomb struck, killing his brother and another child, both nine years old, and
injuring him and at least four others:

I was waiting
in front of the bakery in Handarat when I saw a helicopter roaming. It was 9:30
a.m. It circled in the air three times and then dropped the barrel bomb. It
fell two meters from me. I saw it falling, but where could I hide? I felt the
explosion. I felt the shrapnel going inside my leg…. The shrapnel hit my neck
and leg and my other leg was broken…. I saw four injured people. They were
moving on the ground. I was told in the field hospital that five or six people
died.

Elias told
Human Rights Watch that there were no non-state armed group positions in the
vicinity and that the neighborhood is residential and far from the front line.



Hellok Neighborhood, May 1

On May 1 several barrel bombs struck the Hellok neighborhood of Aleppo. Amal,
who lives in the neighborhood, told Human Rights Watch that five barrel bombs
struck two residential buildings in the neighborhood. “I saw the helicopters
and I saw two barrels falling,” she said. “The barrels did not fall on our
building but it was a few meters away.” She said that she saw 12 people who
were killed in the attack, including a child who appeared to be about 12.



The Violations Documentation Center has identified 61 civilians, including 18
children, who were killed by aerial shelling in Hellok on May 1. Amal told
Human Rights Watch that the nearest front line was about 500 meters from the
strike sites and that there was a Free Syrian Army office about 100 meters
away, although it was not struck in the attacks. Several videos posted on
YouTube show the destruction following the bombing, as well as civilians who
were injured and killed.



Karam al-Nuzha Neighborhood, May 1, July 5 and 7

On May 1 at least two barrel bombs struck the Aleppo neighborhood of Karam
al-Nuzha. A 33-year-old carpenter who was injured in the attack told Human Rights
Watch that it took place in the morning while he was at work. He said the first
strike hit about 500 meters from his workshop and then a second bomb fell
minutes later on the workshop where he was working with 17 other carpenters:

It was around
9:30 a.m. when a barrel bomb fell around 500 meters away [from our workshop]. I
went out and saw the smoke from the blast and then saw the helicopter flying
away. We went back to work and after a few minutes another barrel bomb fell on
the workshop…. I remember seeing complete destruction. People were dragging me
outside and removing the stones and debris that covered me. My leg and back
were injured with shrapnel…. When I saw the helicopter flying away I did not
imagine it would come back to hit us.

He told Human
Rights Watch that at least five people were killed. The Violations
Documentation Center has identified three civilians killed in Karam al-Nuzha on
May 1 by aerial attacks. According to the witness, the nearest front line is
three kilometers away, in the al-Sheikh Saed neighborhood.



A barrel bomb also struck the Karam al-Nuzha neighborhood on July 5. Tamer, a
local resident, told Human Rights Watch that it struck his home in the evening
while he was there with his family. “My wife and 9-year-old girl were injured
by shrapnel,” he said. “My 5-year-old boy’s face is disfigured. My wife’s back
is also injured. My 7-year-old boy was killed.”



In the evening on July 7 a third barrel bomb attack targeted the neighborhood.
A local resident told Human Rights Watch that his building was hit:

I was at home
with my 4-year-old daughter when the barrel bomb fell…. All I remember was that
there was destruction … I live in a residential building with several floors.
The building was destroyed and they removed me from under the rubble…. My
4-year-old daughter was also injured by shrapnel. My body is covered with
shrapnel as well.

He estimated
that the front line was more than one-and-a-half kilometers away.



Anadan, June 14

In an aerial attack on June 14 a barrel bomb fell on a crowded market in
Anadan, a town northwest of Aleppo. Marwan, a 15-year-old boy injured in the
attack, told Human Rights Watch that he knew that it was a barrel bomb that
struck the market because of the characteristic noise the bomb made when it was
dropped. The Violations Documentation Center has identified 16 civilians killed
by aerial attacks in Anadan on June 14, including two children.



Marwan told Human Rights Watch that at the time of the attack he was working in
the market selling vegetables and that the market was full of people. “I don’t
remember anything other than waking up and seeing people killed,” he said. “A
two story building fell on me and people were pulling me out from under the
rubble … I saw several people on the ground. I was told later in [the hospital
in Turkey in] Killis that 20 people died and 16 others were injured.”



Marwan told Human Rights Watch that his leg was injured in the attack. He said
that there were no members of armed groups in the vicinity.



A video published on YouTube on June 14 shows the aftermath of a strike in
Anadan.



Tariq al-Bab Neighborhood, June 25

On June 25 at least one barrel bomb struck the Helwanye roundabout in Tariq
al-Bab neighborhood in the eastern part of Aleppo, where taxis and minibuses
gather to transport civilians to and from the countryside. Khalid, a
15-year-old boy, whose left leg was amputated because of injuries from the
attack, told Human Rights Watch that no members of armed groups were in the
vicinity of the strike site and that fighters were three to five kilometers
away at the front line at Karam al-Jabal or further, at the Aleppo airport. He
said he believed a barrel bomb was used in the attack based on the strength of
the explosion and what other victims told him.



“On June 25, I was going to visit my grandfather in Helwanye when a barrel bomb
was dropped on the roundabout,” he said. “I was in a taxi with five other
people when the barrel fell on us.... The other men with me were all injured
but I was the only one whose leg was amputated…. Now that I lost my left leg I
won’t get to play football anymore.”



The Violations Documentation Center has identified five civilians, including
two children, who were killed in Helwanye on June 25 by aerial attacks. It also
identified six other civilians who were reportedly killed in the neighborhood
of Tariq al-Bab on that day by aerial attacks.



A second resident, a pregnant teenager who was injured in a barrel bomb strike
in Tariq al-Bab on June 25, told Human Rights Watch that she believed the
closest front line was in Tel Sheikh Youssef and that there were no fighters
from armed groups in the neighborhood. Tel Sheikh Youssef is approximately five
kilometers from Tariq al-Bab. She told Human Rights Watch:

I was seven
months pregnant … [and] was just leaving from a doctor’s appointment when the
barrel bomb fell on the street. The doctor had told me that I should walk a
bit, that it would be better for the baby, and so I was walking with my mother.
We knew it was a barrel bomb from the sound but we did not have a chance to
hide. I was injured by shrapnel in my leg and pelvis.... They took me to the
Bayan hospital where I gave birth prematurely. I had a girl and she is now in
good health.

The girl also
told Human Rights Watch that in the aftermath of the attack she saw that one of
her neighbors, a local hairdresser, had been killed.



On June 25 the Aleppo Media Center published a video on YouTube showing the
aftermath of the attack on the Helwanye roundabout, including injured
residents. A member of the local civil defense unit who is interviewed
indicates that two barrel bombs fell on the roundabout, killing 20 people. An
Orient News broadcast also published on YouTube on June 25 also shows the
aftermath of the attack, and states that seven barrel bombs struck the area on
June 25.



Al-Qaterji Neighborhood, June 29

On June 30 a barrel bomb struck the al-Qaterji neighborhood in Aleppo city. A
man who was originally from Idlib, and who moved to the neighborhood with his
wife and 4-year-old daughter because he heard it was relatively safe, told
Human Rights Watch that the bomb struck the residential area where they were
living, far from the front line or any military targets, injuring his daughter:

My wife and I
were inside the house and my daughter was playing on the balcony. I heard the
sound of helicopter … [and] I heard the barrel falling…. When the barrel bomb
exploded the balcony was partially destroyed and my daughter fell from the 3rd
floor. When I went down I saw a lot of destruction and people screaming but I
only focused on my daughter. I took her to the al-Shaar field hospital and then
I brought her to Kilis hospital [in Turkey] later that day. There are no
fighters or front line close to the scene of attack. The whole point of me
leaving Idlib was to not be around the Free Syrian Army.

A member of
the local civil defense forces in Aleppo who participates in rescue operations
also told Human Rights Watch that the al-Qaterji neighborhood was subject to a
barrel bomb strike on June 30.



Tel Rifaat, July 8

On July 8 an aerial attack using a barrel bomb targeted the town of Tel Rifaat
and killed at least one child, according to his mother, who spoke to Human
Rights Watch. She said she was sleeping in her house when the attack began, at
about 3 a.m. She believed other civilians were also injured in the attack:

I was sleeping
next to my husband when I woke up and saw stones above me. People the next day
told me it was a barrel bomb. My 2-year-old son died and my husband was injured
from shrapnel … I did not know what to do. I remember seeing my son’s body very
far from his bed.

A news source
reported that one child was killed and dozens of other civilians were injured
in an air strike on Tel Rifaat on July 8.



The witness told Human Rights Watch that there were no armed groups in the
vicinity of her home or in Tel Rifaat more broadly.



A video posted on YouTube on July 8 shows the destruction caused by the bombing