Syria: new satellite images show devastation in Aleppo

New satellite images of Aleppo provide the most recent evidence of how the protracted conflict in Syria is resulting in massive human rights violations against the civilian population, Amnesty International said today.

The new analysis - one of the most comprehensive satellite image analyses of an active conflict zone to date - shows alarming trends in how the conflict is being fought with utter disregard for the rules of international humanitarian law causing extensive destruction, death and displacement.

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The devastation revealed in the images has been substantiated by Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser, who recently returned to London from a visit to Aleppo. She said:

“Aleppo has been utterly devastated, its people fleeing the conflagration in huge numbers.

“The risk cited one year ago regarding the devastating consequences of turning what was Syria’s most populous city into a battlefield has become reality.

“Aleppo has been utterly devastated, many of its residents fleeing the bombardments in huge numbers and many others trapped in a city under fire and under siege in desperate humanitarian conditions.”

At this time last year - on 6 August 2012 - Amnesty also released satellite imagery of Aleppo and the surrounding areas in response to an escalation in fighting and reports of an impending offensive. The organisation warned of grave risk to civilians in Aleppo and called on all parties to strictly adhere to humanitarian law. By documenting the vast damage to Aleppo’s infrastructure since that warning was issued, the newly released analysis shows the staggering displacement of half of the city’s population as a result of a campaign of indiscriminate air bombardment by government forces, which have also reduced entire areas to rubble and killed and maimed countless civilians.

Comparative satellite images of neighbourhoods devastated by three ballistic missile strikes launched by Syrian government forces between 18 and 22 February provide alarming evidence of the human toll of escalating tactics deployed by parties to the conflict. These three strikes alone killed more than 160 residents and injured hundreds, in addition to destroying scores of homes and leaving hundreds homeless.

The analysis of seven new images over a nine month period from September 2012 to late May 2013 represents the most comprehensive physical damage assessment of Syria’s largest city to date. Government forces have relentlessly and indiscriminately bombarded areas under the control of opposition forces across Syria, with civilians at the receiving end of such attacks and at the same time being subjected to abuses by some armed opposition groups. In Aleppo, the comprehensive survey demonstrates the physical destruction emblematic of relentless bombardment. Satellite image analysis suggests that the destruction across the city is “severely lopsided” toward opposition-controlled neighbourhoods, according to the assessment by the analysers.

In addition to the destruction of infrastructure, the analysis also documents widespread damage within the Ancient City of Aleppo, a UNESCO world heritage site, such as the destruction of the minaret of the Great Mosque of Aleppo and damage to the Souq al-Madina. Under international humanitarian law, parties to conflict are obligated to respect and preserve cultural property.

The images also tracked the increased proliferation of roadblocks, with over a thousand visible in imagery from late May 2013.

Christoph Koettl, Emergency Response Manager at Amnesty International USA, said:

“The grave violations of international law in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria are a direct consequence of the international community’s paralysis and delay in effectively condemning these crimes, and referring the situation to the world’s criminal court of last resort. The images are a snapshot of a population under brutal siege as Amnesty’s researcher on the ground has revealed over time.”

Across the country, almost six million Syrians have been forced from their homes by the spiralling violence; most - 4.25 million - are displaced within Syria. Tens of thousands of Syria’s IDPs (internally displaced persons) are taking shelter in sprawling makeshift IDP camps that have sprung up near the Turkish border since last 2012, when the Turkish government effectively closed its borders to Syrian refugees (Amnesty recently released satellite imagery showing the emergence and growth of these makeshift camps).

Many of those internally displaced, especially those in areas controlled by the opposition, receive little or no international aid, partly because they are in dangerous and difficult-to-access areas and also due to restrictions imposed by the Syrian government on the movement of international humanitarian agencies. UN humanitarian agencies have called on the Syrian government to allow them to access opposition-controlled areas - where IDPs are in much greater need and the risk to their lives much higher because of relentless and indiscriminate bombardments by government forces.

Notes to editors:
The analysis was produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in collaboration with the Science for Human Rights programme of Amnesty International.

Satellite images and other resources available:
 
Embeddable slider showing before and after images of ballistic missile strikes in Aleppo in February 2013: www.amnestyusa.org/science/explore/syria /p>

Satellite images to download: http://bit.ly/AleppoDownload /p>

For more information or to arrange an interview with Donatella Rovera in London, please contact the press office

Donatella Rovera has crossed the border into northern Syria more than 10 times since April 2012, exposing abuses and documenting escalating war crimes including extrajudicial executions, summary executions, indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas, the use of banned weapons, and the killing of large numbers of Children's rights.
 

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