Posted: 23 August 2012
Civilians are enduring horrific levels of violence in the battle between Syrian government forces and opposition fighters for control of Aleppo, Amnesty International said in a new report published today (23 August).
The 11-page report, Civilians Bearing the Brunt in the Battle for Aleppo (pdf), based on first-hand investigations in the city by Amnesty during the first half of August, documents the Syrian government forces’ increasingly frequent air and artillery strikes against residential areas, resulting in often indiscriminate attacks which seriously endanger civilians.
During a 10-day visit to the city, Amnesty investigated some 30 attacks in which scores of civilians not involved in hostilities, many of them children, were killed or injured in their homes, while queuing for bread and even in the places where those displaced by the conflict were sheltering as a result of earlier attacks on residential neighbourhoods.
The attacks, said Amnesty, have often failed to distinguish between opposition fighters and civilian residents and appeared to have been randomly directed at neighbourhoods which are under the de facto control of opposition fighters and/or where opposition fighters are based or operate from, rather than at specific military objectives.
Among the victims of such attacks have been 10 members of the Kayali family, seven of them children, who were killed when their homes were reduced to rubble by two air strikes on the afternoon of 6 August.
Some people have died in places where they’d sought shelter, having already been forced to flee their homes by fighting. Among them was Amina Hindi, who was killed on 8 August with her husband, her mother and her three-month-old niece. She and husband had fled their home because of fighting and were staying with her brother, whose house came under artillery fire.
A bread shortage in Aleppo has recently caused long queues outside bakeries day and night and Amnesty’s report documents how civilians - including children - have been killed or injured while queuing for bread. For example, at 3am on 12 August a 13-year-old girl, Kifa’ Samra, and her 11-year-old brother Zakarya, were killed along with their neighbour, a mother of 11, while queuing for bread near their home.
Amnesty says that the inherent dangers associated with urban warfare are being compounded by a manifest disregard for the safety of civilians in Aleppo. The overwhelming majority of victims were killed in air strikes and artillery attacks by government forces, while in some cases the source of the attack could not be established. Opposition fighters, while mostly fighting with short-range light weapons, have at times also used imprecise or indiscriminate weapons (such as mortars and home-made rockets) that equally pose a danger to civilians.
Amnesty International Senior Crisis Response Adviser Donatella Rovera, who recently returned from Aleppo, said:
“The use of imprecise weapons, such as unguided bombs, artillery shells and mortars by government forces has dramatically increased the danger for civilians.
“Civilians face a daily barrage of air and artillery strikes by government forces in different parts of the city. For many there is simply nowhere safe and families live in fear of the next attack.
“As civilian casualties continue to mount it is imperative that all parties - government forces and opposition fighters - comply with international humanitarian law, which requires that they take all feasible precautions to spare civilians.
“Those responsible for indiscriminate attacks against civilians and other war crimes should expect that they will be held to account.
“It is shameful that the international community remains divided over Syria, disregarding the body of evidence of the scale and the gravity of the human rights abuses in Syria and effectively looking the other way while civilians are bearing the brunt.”
A further deeply disturbing development highlighted in the report is the sharp increase in extrajudicial and summary executions of civilians not involved in the conflict by government forces. Bodies of mostly young men, usually handcuffed and shot in the head, have been frequently found dumped near the headquarters of the Air Force Intelligence which is completely controlled by government forces.
As the conflict continues there are also growing concern about increased abuses, including unlawful killings and ill-treatment of captives, by opposition fighters belonging to a plethora of armed opposition groups, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA), operating in the city. Amnesty has repeatedly called on the FSA leadership to take steps to put an immediate end to such abuses and to ensure that these and any other killings of captives be investigated impartially.