Rights group asks US, Russia to investigate deadly new attacks in Aleppo, Syria
June 19, NY: Deadly attacks on the city of Aleppo on June 4 and 5, 2016, are a test of the United States’ and Russia’s recent commitment to investigate attacks with significant civilian casualties in Syria. They should examine the attacks, which killed at least 32 civilians in opposition-held areas and at least 22 civilians in government-held areas.
In a May 9 statement, the US and Russia promised to carry out a joint assessment of attacks in Syria “leading to significant civilian casualties” and to share the results with the members of the International Syria Support Group Ceasefire Task Force and the UN Security Council. A month later, however, Human Rights Watch is not aware of any joint assessments. The US and Russia should report to the Security Council about these new attacks, and both countries and the Security Council should impose sanctions on those responsible for any attacks that violate international law.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a Syrian group that reports on civilian casualties in the conflict, attacks and shelling on opposition-held Aleppo has intensified since April 22. Between April 22 and June 9, 560 civilians have been killed, including 115 children and 83 women, according to SOHR.
At about 8 a.m. on June 5, airstrikes started hitting residential neighborhoods in opposition-held parts of Aleppo, according to local residents and local members of Syria Civil Defense, a volunteer search and rescue organization which operates in opposition-held areas. One of those neighborhoods was al-Qatirji where the Syrian Network for Human Rights said 12 civilians died.
“The rockets didn’t stop falling until maybe 3 p.m.,” said Feras Badawi, a local resident. “The whole day felt like the Apocalypse, it was just so bad. It is hard to describe, people were running chaotically, children were crying, women were screaming. My children were hysterical. People were very afraid.”
Badawi and two local media activists said that there were no military targets in the area that came under attack. Human Rights Watch could not independently verify the presence of military targets in that area. The Syria Civil Defense posted a video showing the aftermath of one of the June 5 strikes on al-Qatirji and rescue workers pulling a dead body from the rubble. Using satellite imagery analysis of al-Qatirji, Human Rights Watch identified at least three distinct sites in the area hit on June 5 showing multiple mixed residential and commercial buildings damaged. The damage in these sites is consistent with the detonation of large air-dropped munitions.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Syrian Network for Human Rights, another group that reports on civilian casualties, put the civilian death toll from airstrikes and artillery fire on opposition-held areas that day at 32, including a woman and two children. The Syrian Civil Defense said that 64 civilians were killed in Aleppo and its outskirts. Neither the Syrian nor the Russian government issued a statement, and it is not clear which of them carried out the airstrikes.
The official Syrian news agency, SANA, reported that rockets fired by opposition armed groups on government controlled parts of Aleppo, including al-Midan and al-Ramouseh neighborhoods, killed 17 civilians and wounded 124 on June 4.
On June 5, SANA reported that five people were killed and 77 injured when armed groups fired rockets on Aleppo locations, including al-Ramouseh, the Electricity Company, al-Midan and the Public Park, also hitting an Armenian church.
Human Rights Watch has previously documented abuses by armed groups, including through attacks with car bombs, mortars, and unguided rockets on heavily populated, government-controlled areas in Damascus and Homs.
Deliberate or reckless attacks against civilians and civilian structures committed with criminal intent are war crimes. The laws of war require that the parties to a conflict take constant care during military operations to spare the civilian population and to “take all feasible precautions” to avoid or minimize the incidental loss of civilian life and damage to civilian objects.
The Oslo Times International News Network/HRW