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Barrel bombs 'greater threat' to Syrian civilians than IS

The aftermath of a barrel bomb attack on Damascus [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 6 August, 2015

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Human Rights Watch says Syrian regime's use of barrel bombs is a greater threat to civilians than Islamic State group.

Barrel bombs dropped by the Syrian regimes are a greater threat to civilians than the Islamic State group, said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

This deadly weapon has been used by Assad's forces against civilian neighbourhoods occupied by opposition forces especially in Aleppo, Idlib and Dara'a, with no regard for human life.

The apparent aim, Roth argues, is to try and force civilians out of opposition held areas. It has also turned many into refugees and forced them to leave the country.

This is a "total war" strategy prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and laws of war, he said.

     Stopping Mr Assad's barrel bombs is probably the single most urgent task to reduce civilians suffering now.
- Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch


"Syrians have described to me the sheer terror of waiting the 30 seconds or so for the barrel bomb to tumble to earth from a helicopter hovering overhead, not knowing until near the very end where its deadly point of impact will be," said Roth.

The HRW director also criticised the international community for failing to act to stop Assad's barrel bombs.

He argues that Russia and Iran, that have the greatest influence over the regime, have failed to act, while Western governments have failed to put pressure on them because they are prioritising events in Ukraine and the nuclear deal.

The EU, meanwhile, has focused more on stopping Syrian refugees reaching Europe that on the reasons why they are being forced to flee in the first place.

Russia has also blocked previous UN proposals, such as the one in February 2014 to end the "indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs."

"If Russia persists in blocking the International Criminal Court from having jurisdiction to pursue war-crimes charges, an alternative tribunal should be found," Roth adds.

With little chance the war will end soon, many Syrians have told Roth: "stopping Mr Assad's barrel bombs is probably the single most urgent task to reduce their suffering now."

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