Syria increasing cluster bomb use, says rights group


HUMAN RIGHTS Watch reports that the Syrian air force has dramatically increased its use of cluster bombs in recent days.

The shells have been dropped on rebels along the strategic highway that runs from Homs northward to the Turkish border. The strikes were, apparently, concentrated on the Ma’arat Nu’man area, a town in Idlib province captured by rebel forces last week.

Citing 18 videos posted online between October 9th and 12th by Syrian activists, the rights watchdog says unexploded cluster munitions and remnants had also been found in other towns in Idlib as well as in Homs, Latakia, Aleppo provinces and the countryside near Damascus.

The cluster bomb canisters and submunitions in the videos “all show damage and wear patterns produced by being mounted on and dropped from aircraft,” says the rights rights watchdog.

Residents of Taftanaz and Tamane’a told the organisation that helicopters had “dropped the cluster munitions on or near their towns on October 9th”. Activists have not mentioned casualties.

Only three cases of cluster munition use in Hama, Homs and Deir al-Zor provinces had been recorded previously during the 18-month conflict.

“Syria’s disregard for its civilian population is all too evident in its air campaign, which now apparently includes dropping these deadly cluster bombs into populated areas,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch.

“The cluster munition strikes and unexploded ordnance they leave behind pose a huge danger to civilian populations, who often seem unaware how easily these submunitions could still explode.”

Canisters containing dozens or hundreds of submunitions burst in the air scattering dozens or, even, hundreds of bomblets over a target area. Unexploded bomblets can remain on the ground for long periods and are a hazard to all.

Syria is not a signatory of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans their use and requires decontamination of affected areas.

* Turkey yesterday banned all Syrian aircraft from its air space, days after intercepting a Syrian airliner carrying what it said were Russian-made munitions for the Syrian army.

Damascus indicated on Saturday that it was banning Turkish civilian flights from flying over its territory.