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Russian airstrikes in Syria violate international law

October 26, 2015 at 3:23 pm

The US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for an investigation into at least two Russian airstrikes in Syria that hit the village of Ghantou and the town of Ter Maalah in Northern Homs, saying that the strikes may have violated international law.

The two airstrikes, which were launched on 15 October, killed a total of 59 civilians, including 33 children and 12 women, in addition to a Free Syrian Army commander.

“Russia talks about precision strikes, yet accounts from the ground and footage from the aftermath indicate that many civilians are being killed,” said HRW’s deputy Middle East Director Nadim Houry. “Russia needs to take all necessary measures to protect civilians from their own strikes.”

The organisation reported that the severe wounds and burns on victims’ bodies indicate that fuel-air explosives (FAEs), also known as “vacuum bombs”, may have been used.

HRW called on Russia to take all necessary precautions to protect civilians and enable them to leave the area without being hit by Russian or Syrian airstrikes.

It added that Russia and Syria have to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law.

The more severe of the two strikes hit a house in Ghantou where the Assaf family were seeking shelter. The strike resulted in the death of 46 members of the family, all of whom were civilians.

The second airstrike hit the neighbouring town of Ter Maalah, near a bakery in the town, killing at least 13 civilians and a local Free Syrian Army commander who had defected from the Syrian state army.

“Attacks in which the expected civilian loss exceeds the anticipated military gain are serious violations of the laws of war,” Human Rights Watch stated.

The US watchdog quoted a UN-mandated commission of inquiry on Syria as stating that the government forces are imposing a siege on the Homs governorate where Syrian army soldiers at “regularly conduct arbitrary arrests, confiscate food and other basic supplies, and prevent sick and wounded persons from seeking medical attention.”