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Syria's 'Circle of hell': Barrel bombs in Aleppo bring terror and bloodshed forcing civilians underground

Amnesty International
5 May 2015


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Details the horrendous war crimes and other abuses being committed in the city by government forces and armed opposition groups on a daily basis, and concludes that some of the government’s actions in Aleppo amount to crimes against humanity.

The report paints a particularly distressing picture of the devastation and bloodshed caused by barrel bombs - packed with explosives and metal fragments - which have been dropped by government forces on schools, hospitals, mosques and crowded markets. Many hospitals and schools have sought safety by moving into basements or underground bunkers.

“Widespread atrocities, in particular the vicious and unrelenting aerial bombardment of civilian neighborhoods by government forces, have made life for civilians in Aleppo increasingly unbearable. These reprehensible and continual strikes on residential areas point to a policy of deliberately and systematically targeting civilians in attacks that constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

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Barrel bomb attacks by government forces: Attacks using barrel bombs - oil barrels, fuel tanks or gas cylinders packed with explosives, fuel, and metal fragments dropped from helicopters - killed more than 3,000 civilians in Aleppo governorate last year, and more than 11,000 in Syria since 2012. Last month local activists recorded at least 85 barrel bomb attacks in Aleppo city that killed at least 110 civilians. Yet the Syrian government has failed to acknowledge a single civilian casualty caused by such attacks, with President Bashar al-Assad categorically denying that barrel bombs had ever been used by his forces in a media interview in February 2015.

Survivors of the eight barrel bomb attacks documented in this report described harrowing scenes of carnage in the aftermath of the explosions making clear the true horror of these attacks.
“I saw children without heads, body parts everywhere. It was how I imagine hell to be,” a local factory worker said describing the aftermath of an attack on al-Fardous neighbourhood in 2014.

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The report also details the terrifying ordeal for civilians living in the shadow of this deadly and persistent threat.
“There is no sun, no fresh air, we can’t go upstairs and there are always airplanes and helicopters in the sky,” said one doctor whose field hospital is among those forced underground.

“We are always nervous, always worried, always looking to the sky,” a teacher from Aleppo told Amnesty International.
Another resident described Aleppo as “the circle of hell”: “The streets are filled with blood. The people who have been killed are not the people who were fighting,” he said: “The fear and desperation among Aleppo’s civilians is clear.

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“More than a year ago the UN passed a resolution calling for an end to human rights abuses, and specifically barrel bomb attacks, promising there would be consequences if the government failed to comply. Today, the international community has turned its back on Aleppo’s civilians in a cold-hearted display of indifference to an escalating human tragedy.

“Continued inaction is being interpreted by perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity as a sign they can continue to hold the civilians of Aleppo hostage without fear of any retribution. A referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court would send a signal that those ordering and committing these crimes can be brought to justice and could help stem the spiral of abuses,” said Philip Luther.

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