Syria crisis: Bashar al-Assad’s use of rockets ‘amounts to war crimes’

Indiscriminate use of Scud missiles has killed hundreds of civilians, say activists

Beirut

The Syrian government is conducting a campaign of indiscriminate missile attacks on populated areas that have resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths in the past few months, including more than a hundred children, Human Rights Watch have claimed.

The watchdog has investigated nine ballistic missile attacks on populated areas, which killed at least 215 civilians, including 100 children, between February and July. It said that the use of such tactics constituted a war crime.

“When these weapons have fallen in populated areas, it has had devastating effects on the civilian population. In the cases that we have documented, the use of ballistic missiles in an indiscriminate way on populated areas, it is a war crime,” the group’s Syria researcher Lama Fakih told The Independent.

While using ballistic missiles in an armed conflict is not prohibited, their use is subject to the laws of war, which stipulate the use of force should distinguish between civilians and combatants and minimise civilian harm.  Yet the area of destruction caused by ballistic missiles is so wide that it is impossible to distinguish between civilians and fighters in populated areas. In visits to seven of the sites, HRW found no apparent military targets in the vicinity of the attacks.

Syria stockpiles several types of ballistic missiles and is known to be in possession of Scud missiles, SS-21 Tochka missiles, and Luna-M missiles. Syria’s missile inventory was one of the justifications for the US installing the Patriot interception missiles on the border in Jordan and Turkey.  Radars there regularly show the use of Scud missiles within Syria. With a range of up to 150 km, the missiles are a more economical option than bombing from the air. They are also sturdy; missiles purchased decades ago are still operable although their accuracy decreases with time. Various types of Scuds, SS-21 Tochka and Luna – M missiles were been used against civilians in the attacks investigated by HRW.

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using Scud missiles against civilians.

Video footage of missiles being launched, as well as unexploded missiles of various types from across Syria, can be found on YouTube. The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), a UK based human rights groups, alleges the government has fired at least 131 long range surface-to-surface missiles between December 2012 and early July. More than half of the attacks targeted Aleppo governorate. Twenty of the attacks, some using multiple missiles, killed approximately 257 civilians, the group said, and injured almost 1000.

Many of these missiles appear to have been launched by the 155th Brigade, based in al-Qutayfah in the Qalamoun region in the countryside of Damascus.

The most recent attack, on the town of Bab Nairab in Aleppo on July 26, 2013, killed at least 33 civilians, half of them children.  Ten houses were completely destroyed and the damage extended across two neighbourhoods. During a previous visit, HRW had identified several buildings used as opposition bases about 300 metres from the site. But these were not damaged in the strike according to local residents. The attack killed at least 33 civilians, half of them children.

Children have been particularly affected by the ballistic missile attacks; almost half of the victims are minors. This is partially due to their small body size as the blast and fragmentation from explosive weapons can cause more serious injuries to them, says Kimberly Brown at Save the Children, who are working with Human Rights Watch within the Network on Explosive Weapons to enforce stricter international regulation.

“Syrian children are killed or injured in indiscriminate bombings, shot by snipers, used as human shields or victims of terror tactics,” said the UN’s special envoy for Children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui in June. The UN estimates that at least 5000 children under the age of 16 have died in the conflict, activists estimate the real death toll to be a least twice as high.

Over 100,000 people have died in the 28-month conflict, according to the United Nations.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'