Middle East

Syria barrel bombings 'continue despite UN ban'

Men inspect the damage caused by what they said was a barrel bomb dropped by government forces on the al-Myassar district of Aleppo (7 February 2015) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Human Rights Watch said the UN Security Council had done nothing to stop the barrel bombings

The Syrian government dropped barrel bombs on hundreds of sites last year, violating a UN Security Council resolution, Human Rights Watch says.

The group said it had documented at least 450 locations targeted in the southern province of Deraa and another 1,000 in Aleppo in the north alone.

Barrel bombs are large cylindrical containers filled with explosive.

In an interview with the BBC two weeks ago, President Bashar al-Assad denied his forces used barrel bombs.

Dismissing the allegation as a "childish story", he insisted: "There are no barrel bombs. We don't have barrels.

"There are no indiscriminate weapons. When you shoot you aim, and when you shoot, when you aim, you aim at terrorists in order to protect civilians... You cannot have war without casualties."

Arms embargo

But Human Rights Watch said evidence it had collected through analysing satellite images, photographs, videos and witness accounts contradicted Mr Assad's assertion.

The group documented attacks in Deraa and Aleppo provinces from 22 February 2014 - when a UN Security Council resolution insisted all parties end "indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment" - until 25 January of this year.

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Media captionWhat is a barrel bomb? - in 30 seconds

Barrel bombs are typically dropped from helicopters - which only government forces are believed to operate - at high altitudes to avoid anti-aircraft fire. At that distance, it is impossible to target with precision.

HRW says the attacks had a "devastating impact on civilians, killing or injuring thousands of people".

On Sunday, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported separately that 6,163 civilians, including 1,892 children and 1,720 women, had been killed in barrel bomb attacks since 22 February.

The Security Council is scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss last year's resolution.

"For a year, the Security Council has done nothing to stop Bashar al-Assad's murderous air bombing campaign on rebel-held areas, which has terrorised, killed, and displaced civilians," said Nadim Houry, HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

"Amid talk of a possible temporary cessation of strikes on Aleppo, the question is whether Russia and China will finally allow the UN Security Council to impose sanctions to stop barrel bombs."

Last week, the UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said Mr Assad had agreed to halt the aerial bombardment of Aleppo for six weeks as part of a proposal for a local ceasefire.

HRW also noted that non-state armed groups had also conducted indiscriminate attacks in government-held areas, using car bombs and explosive weapons.

The Security Council should impose an arms embargo on the government as well as non-state groups implicated in widespread or systematic indiscriminate attacks, the New York-based organisation said.