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Monday, 26 October 2015 19:28

Human Rights Watch Accuses Russia of War Crimes in Syria

Russian airstrikes in Syria are reported to have killed dozens of civilians, Human Rights Watch has said, adding that the attacks apparently constitute war crimes.

A series of Russian airstrikes in the city of Homs in western Syria on Oct.15th killed at least 59 civilians including 33 children, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Sunday -- citing local residents and activists. The group added that the attacks constituted “violations of the laws of war”.

The New York-based body said one airstrike hit the home of an opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander, in which 46 family members were killed. Locals said the FSA commander was away from the home at the time of the attack.

Another airstrike on the same day hit near a bakery, killing at least 13 civilians as well as a FSA soldier who was a Syrian army defector, the rights group said, adding that it was not clear whether he was the intended target, as neither Russia nor the Syrian regime issued statements about the specific air strikes.

“The blast wounds and flash burns visible on victims in videos and photographs of the Ghantou aftermath, the highly uniform size of the rubble, and the body positions with few fragmentation wounds, indicate the possible use of fuel-air explosives (FAEs), also known as “vacuum bombs,” or enhanced blast weapons.”

“More powerful than conventional high-explosive munitions of comparable size, fuel-air explosives produce extensive damage over a wide area, and are therefore prone to indiscriminate impact in populated areas,” HRW added.

“Civilians in northern Homs may have nowhere to hide or flee as the offensive intensifies,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“Russia should ensure that it takes all precautions to protect civilians and that civilians are able to leave the area if they want, without being hit by Russian or Syrian air strikes,” he added.

The rights group said no warnings or announcements were made to civilians prior to the Oct. 15 attacks although the laws of war require each party to the conflict to give effective advance warning of attacks that may affect the civilian population.

This was not the first time the Russian forces faced allegations of striking civilians since the start of the bombing campaign. Most recently, the Syrian-American Medical Society said Russian airstrikes hit nine hospitals in Syria this month, killing and wounding tens of staff and civilians.

The Syrian Coalition has already condemned the massacre in rural Homs.

Mouaffaq Nyrabia, Syrian National Coalition Representative to the EU and BENELUX said that “the Syrian National Coalition supports the unanimous decision by EU Foreign Ministers to put, for the first time, civilian protection at the centre of the EU’s policy on Syria.”

Nyrabia stresses that “neither the Assad regime nor Russia will end their illegal bombardment of Syrian civilians until they are compelled – by a robust and comprehensive international approach – to stop their killing and instead participate seriously in a political negotiation on transition.”

“It is time for the EU and its Member States to turn words into concrete actions. The first step must be to protect Syrian civilians through enforcement of a ban on aerial bombardment. Such a no-bombing zone, designed to deter the bombing of civilians through the limited use of force from ships in the Mediterranean, will save lives, uphold international law, reduce the refugee exodus and make a political solution more likely,” he said. (Source: Syrian Coalition)