BEIRUT

Middle East

Syrian jets bomb bread queues: HRW

FILE - A picture dated on August 13, 2012 shows Syrians queuing to buy bread from a bakery run by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the northern city of Aleppo on August 13, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/PHIL MOORE)

BEIRUT: Syrian jets and artillery have struck at least 10 bakeries in Aleppo in the last three weeks, killing dozens of people as they waited in line to buy bread, Human Rights Watch said Thursday, accusing the military of targeting civilians.

The U.S.-based group said the attacks were either aimed at or were done without care to avoid the hundreds of civilians forced to queue outside a dwindling number of bakeries in Syria’s biggest city, a front line in the civil war.

“The attacks are at least recklessly indiscriminate and the pattern and number of attacks suggest that government forces have been targeting civilians,” HRW said. “Both reckless indiscriminate attacks and deliberately targeting civilians are war crimes.”

One attack on Aug. 16 killed around 60 people and wounded more than 70, said HRW, which sent a researcher to the embattled city.

Food shortages in Aleppo, a focal point of the 17-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad, have forced many bakeries to close, meaning huge queues for the food staple outside the remaining shops.

“Day after day, Aleppo residents line up to get bread for their families, and instead get shrapnel piercing their bodies from government bombs and shells,” said Ole Solvang, the HRW researcher who visited Aleppo. “Ten bakery attacks are not random – they show no care for civilians and strongly indicate an attempt to target them.”

Thousands of rebels from Aleppo’s countryside began moving into the city, Syria’s economic hub, in July. Many moved their fighters into schools and other buildings in residential neighborhoods, leading to high civilian casualties as Assad’s forces pounded rebel-held areas with airstrikes and artillery.

HRW said in five of the cases it investigated, there was no military target near the bakeries other than a few fighters maintaining order in the bread lines, meaning the areas were “clearly civilian objects.”

“Every pilot who deliberately launches a rocket at a bread line of civilians, and every commander who gives such an order, should face justice for their crimes,” Solvang said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 31, 2012, on page 8.

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