The Air Force loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has dropped cluster bombs on the country's civilian areas, a human rights organization says. The bombs were dropped while loyalist government forces were fighting rebels for control over a highway, according to the New York-based High Rights Watch (HRW) organization.
Rebels cut off the main artery leading from Damascus to Aleppo, Syria's northern commercia hub, in the past week. The organization had previously reported use of the bombs in July and August as well. The group said there was evidence loyalist forces dropped the bombs last week near the town of Ma'arat al-Numan, in northwestern Syria.
In addition, Syrian activists posted videos showing remnants of those bombs in and around the Homs governorate, the northern governorates of Aleppo and Idlib, the Latakia region and the Eastern Ghouta district near the capital, Damascus.
Cluster bombs are designed to kill large numbers of people by scattering many smaller bombs, some of which do not explode immediately, later endangering children and others who may pick them up.
According to the videos posted from Oct. 9-12 and referenced by HRW, the munitions were produced by the Soviet Union prior to its collapse, which at the time was a major supplier to Syria.
HRW director Steve Goose issued a statement on Sunday saying, “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.... Syria should immediately stop all use of these indiscriminate weapons that continue to kill and maim for years.”
According to the report, HRW said it confirmed the fragments seen in the videos were RBK-250 series cluster bomb cannisters, and AO-1SCh fragmentation bomblets. Cluster bombs have been banned by 77 countries around the world, according to the FOCUS News Agency.
At least 32,000 people have died since the civil war broke out in March 2011, beginning initially as a simple, peaceful protest ignited by the regionwide Arab Spring uprisings. It is impossible to verify precise numbers due to the dangers and difficulties for journalists to enter and leave the country, but activists and human rights organizations estimate that the vast majority of the tens of thousands of those who have died were civilians.
Well over 200,000 others have fled the country altogether and are now refugees in neighboring lands; more than a million more are homeless and living as displaced refugees, still within Syria.