BEIRUT: When a barrel bomb strikes the ground in Aleppo one of the few certainties is that a military target won’t be in the vicinity, according to a report issued Monday by Human Rights Watch.
The New York-based watchdog used satellite imagery, interviews with witnesses, video footage and the work of local organizations inside Syria to produce its findings in “Syria: Unlawful Air Attacks Terrorize Aleppo.”
It alleges that the Syrian regime ignored a U.N. Security Council resolution last month to halt the indiscriminate use of weapons, including barrel bombs, in populated areas.
The report documents the recurring use of barrel bombs and other unguided high explosive bombs on residential and commercial areas, with much of the devastating results apparent in Aleppo neighborhoods.
The satellite imagery, for example, shows over 30 likely airstrike sites in the Masaken Hanano and Jouret Awad neighborhoods of Aleppo, in which more than 100 buildings were destroyed.
Witnesses from Masaken Hanano told HRW that while a rebel barracks was located in the neighborhood, neither this location nor any other military target were near the areas pounded by the barrel bombs.
“If these indiscriminate dumb weapons managed to hit a military target, it would be sheer luck,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at HRW. “Use of barrel bombs in residential neighborhoods has done the expected: killed hundreds of civilians and driven thousands from their homes.”
The report relies on the various casualty figures assembled by local groups such as the Violations Documentation Center, and the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
They estimate that around 2,000 to 3,000 civilians have been killed in the intensified campaign against the city of Aleppo and other parts of the province since November.
The VCD estimates that another 20,000 people were wounded in the attacks, while aid officials in Turkey estimate that around 5,000-6,000 families from Aleppo fled the city during this period.
Not surprisingly the results of the bombardment have had horrific consequences for the survivors, such as an unnamed 9-year-old girl in the town of Hreitan, northwest of Aleppo. A barrel bomb attack on Dec. 19 decapitated Noura al-Abdu, 13, and severely injured the girl, who told HRW she was walking down the stairs in her building when the bomb fell, severing her leg above the knee, and killing her relative.
“We heard the helicopter but I couldn’t make it down in time [to hide],” she said. “The barrel came and killed Noura and took my legs.”
HRW said the continued “indiscriminate air war against civilian areas” should prompt the U.N. Security Council to implement an arms embargo on the Syrian regime and any other groups involved in widespread or systematic human rights abuses. The cases should also be referred to the International Criminal Court, Human Rights Watch said.
“For three years the Syrian government has declared open season on civilians with almost no consequences,” Whitson said. “The U.N. Security Council should respond to this disregard of its resolution, including by imposing an arms embargo, to show there will be penalties for widespread human rights violations.”