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Syria: Unlawful Air Attacks Terrorize Aleppo

Human Rights Watch
24 March 2014

(New York) – New satellite imagery, videos and eyewitness accounts reveal the indiscriminate nature of the government’s large-scale air campaign on opposition-held parts of Aleppo since November 2013. The attacks on populated areas in Aleppo and its countryside continue despite a UN Security Council resolution on February 22, 2014, demanding all parties cease “indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs.”
The air attacks on Aleppo and its countryside have killed and wounded large numbers of civilians and led to large-scale displacement. One local group estimated that the attacks have killed 2,321 civilians in Aleppo governorate between November 1, 2013, and March 21, 2014.
“New satellite photos and witness accounts show the brutality unleashed on parts of Aleppo,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Use of barrel bombs in residential neighborhoods has done the expected: killed hundreds of civilians and driven thousands from their homes. If these indiscriminate dumb weapons managed to hit a military target, it would be sheer luck.”
Using satellite imagery analysis, Human Rights Watch identified at least 340 distinct sites in Aleppo city’s opposition-held neighborhoods that were damaged between early November and February 20, the date of the most recent image reviewed. The majority of these identified sites have damage signatures that are strongly consistent with the detonation of barrel bombs – unguided high explosive bombs, which 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.
Damage sites were widely distributed across almost all neighborhoods under opposition control, with a majority falling in heavily built-up residential areas far from the frontline. In most of the cases about which Human Rights Watch spoke to witnesses, the witnesses said there were no military targets nearby, reflecting the indiscriminate nature of the strikes.
In mid-March – after the Security Council called for an end to barrel bomb attacks – refugees newly arrived in Turkey, and other people displaced inside Syria, described to a Human Rights Watch researcher recurrent, almost daily indiscriminate air attacks on residential and commercial areas in Aleppo, mostly by barrel bombs, far, they said, from any conceivable military target. The residents spoke consistently about seeing helicopters drop barrel bombs over them, the characteristic noise of the bombs while dropping and of seeing unexploded bombs, and remnants of what were clearly barrel bombs.
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