Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been ruthlessly bombing towns under opposition control since July.
This week two reports detail, for the first time, the stunning extent of the indiscriminate death from above.
An investigation by Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that the Syrian Air Force “has repeatedly carried out indiscriminate, and in some cases deliberate, air strikes against civilians.”
HRW’s 80-page report draws from visits to 50 sites of government air strikes in opposition-controlled areas in Aleppo, Idlib, and Latakia governorates as well as more than 140 interviews with witnesses and victims. The researchers believe that more than 4,000 civilians have been killed by aerial attacks.
Ole Solvang of Human Rights Watch told EA Worldview that in “virtually all cases we documented the strikes did not hit any legitimate targets.”
While armed rebels have also been found to commit war crimes during the two-year conflict, many of the perpetrators in those instances are foreign jihadists, not Syrians like Assad, and they don’t have aeroplanes.
Documentarian Olly Lambert went to a village of al Bara in the Idlib province. He was the only journalists around for miles. As he was interviewing a Syrian rebel leader, a regime airstrike hit 300 meters from where he was standing. He kept the cameras rolling and the next 30 minutes show the grim reality that many civilians face.
Here’s what Lambert says near the end:
“I haven’t watched this footage through in its entirety for a few months now. The thing that stays with me is this sort of other worldliness of it. It really was like stepping into some weird concrete nightmare. Nothing makes sense. Nothing is clear.”
Here’s Lambert’s report from al-Bara (WARNING: GRAPHIC):
And there’s no doubt the bombing campaign is a calculated tactic.
“The air force is extremely important for Assad right now,” said Joseph Holliday, a Syria analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, told The Associated Press. “It has allowed Assad to prevent rebels from establishing a part of Syria where people can be safe and the opposition can focus on governing the place.”
Last year Assad decided to pull troops from non-significant areas only to bomb bread lines and force the population to live under rebel rule without basic necessities in the hopes of turning civilians against militant rebels.
“The aim of the airstrikes appears to be to terrorize civilians from the air, particularly in the opposition-controlled areas where they would otherwise be fairly safe from any effects of fighting,” Solvang told the AP.
Assad’s troops have carried out massacres in other ways as well. Defected Syrian soldiers have told “grisly stories of how their units executed unarmed civilians for demonstrating against the Assad regime.”
Furthermore, Western nations have “hard evidence” that the Syrian army has deployed chemical weapons have been used at least once. At least six people died in an apparent chemical attack in Homs in December.
The evidence against Assad goes as far as suggesting that he staged a massacre for political gain. On March 21 international news agencies reported that a “large explosion killed at least 42 people inside a central Damascus mosque.” The regime said that the blast, which killed pro-Assad cleric Mohammad al-Bouti, was the work of a suicide bomber.
How were the 40-plus people killed? The bomb could not have killed the other people, as even the people sitting less than a meter away from him were hardly affected. Why, then, has the regime insisted it was a suicide bombing that killed the cleric? … Activists have alleged that many of those who died were shot at a point-blank range.
Here’s a video describing the HRW report (WARNING: GRAPHIC):
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