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Russian Airstrikes Kill Syrian Civilians
By Human Rights Watch
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, October 12, 2015
Residents Say No Military Target Near Where 17 Died
Russian airstrikes on Talbiseh in northern Homs that killed at least
17 civilians should be investigated for possible violations of the laws of
war, Human Rights Watch said today. Two local media activists and two
first responders said that the September 30, 2015 strikes hit a
residential part of town at a distance from any apparent military targets
and that no combatants were killed in the strike.
the beginning of its airstrikes in
Syria on September 30.
In addition to the strike on Talbiseh,
local groups operating in northern Homs said that jets that they believed
were Russian conducted strikes on the neighboring towns of Za`faraneh and
Rastan, killing another reported 17 civilians. Northern Homs is controlled
by various armed groups opposed to the government, including some groups
affiliated with al-Nusra Front. Human Rights Watch is still gathering
information about these two additional strikes. According to a report by
Russia 24, a state-owned news channel, Talbiseh was one of several
towns in Homs
struck by Russian forces on September 30.
“Now Syrian civilians
may have to worry about Russian attacks even when they are in
neighborhoods without apparent military targets,” said
Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director. “Russia’s priority should be
to protect civilians in Syria and take all possible precautions to avoid
Local residents told Human Rights Watch that
airstrikes hit the town of Talbiseh at about 10:30 a.m. on the day the
Russians announced their offensive. A local teacher said a school and a
post office were struck, killing civilians and causing severe damage. The
post office building was not being used as a post office, but for baking
and distributing bread in an area where the conflict has caused a food
shortage, the local residents said.
Four local activists and first
responders said that there were no military targets – such as fighters,
bases, or weapons stocks – near the targeted area and that the closest
front line was at least two kilometers away.
The three-story post
office building was completely destroyed, residents said. Mostafa Wakeel,
the head of the committee organizing the bread production, died in the
Two first responders said that 17 civilians were killed,
including at least 3 children and 4 women, and 72 wounded. They provided
Human Rights Watch with a list of the dead. Human Rights Watch also
reviewed videos taken by local activists showing four bodies in the
aftermath of the attack.
“There were a lot of corpses,” said the
head of Homs Civil Defense, Abdel Men`em Sateef:
The post office was
completely destroyed. There were many victims, people dead. We tried to
first help the victims who were still alive, the ones we could save. I saw
a leg, just a leg. A man of 50 was wandering around asking about his son.
One of our colleagues from the civil defense died while rescuing the
victims. I personally carried nine bodies.
The Syria Civil Defense in
Homs identified the rescuer who died as
Abdul Lateef Duhaik, 18.
Russian officials did not issue any
specific comments regarding the strike on Talbiseh. During a media
briefing about the results of the first day of air operations, the
official representative of the Russian Defense Ministry said, “In the
vicinity of Talbiseh, the headquarters of terrorist groups of the same
organization [ISIS] and the ammunition depot were destroyed by SU-24
Two local activists told Human Rights Watch that they were
certain that the strikes that killed civilians in Talbiseh were carried
out by Russian planes. They said that the planes launched their weapons
from higher altitudes than Syrian planes usually do and that they had been
told by spotters who monitor communications that they heard Russian being
used in communications with the cockpit of the jets flying over the area.
Under the laws of war all parties to armed conflicts are required to
distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians and direct
attacks only at combatants. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. All
parties must take all feasible precautions to avoid, and minimize, loss of
civilian life and injury to civilians.
The strikes on Talbiseh are
not the only reported Russian strikes that have killed civilians in
Northern Homs on September 30. Local media activists and first responders
also said that airstrikes hit the neighboring town of Za`faraneh at about
8:30 a.m. The local Syria Civil Defense reported that the Za`faraneh
airstrikes killed 8 civilians and injured 36.
believed to be Russian also hit the town of Rastan in northern Homs,
killing nine civilians according to the local Syria Civil Defense. Human
Rights Watch is still conducting inquiries about these two attacks.
The Russian authorities should investigate credible allegations of
violations of the laws of war and publish their findings, Human Rights
Watch said. Russia should also take all feasible precautions to minimize
harm to civilians in future attacks.
“Reports of civilian
casualties in its first strikes raise concerns that Russia is not taking
sufficient precautions to avoid civilian casualties in Syria,” Houry said.
“After enduring so much, the last thing Syrians need would be more
indiscriminate attacks from the air.”
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