(Beirut) – Apparently unlawful attacks by government and armed groups around Aleppo in Syria have killed at least 89 civilians since April 22, 2016. Despite the rising casualties, Western leaders meeting in Hannover, Germany, on April 25 missed an opportunity to focus on the need to protect civilians in Syria.
Fighting has intensified in Syria in the last week as negotiations between the warring parties in Geneva stumbled. Human Rights Watch received information about the new deaths in attacks that did not appear to be targeting any military objective.
“With the civilian death toll rising and hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the country, key powers need to be focused on protecting civilians in all parts of Syria,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director. “There are decisive measures that key powers, particularly those on the Security Council, can take to deter abusive parties and improve protection for civilians.”
Syrian Civil Defense, a group of search and rescue volunteers operating inside opposition-held Aleppo and other parts of the country, reported that government airstrikes have killed at least 89 civilians and injured 135 in Aleppo since April 22. One of the deadliest attacks occurred on April 24, when government airstrikes hit a market place in the Sakhour neighborhood of Aleppo at noon killing a reported 17 civilians, according to media activists who documented the aftermath of the attack.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a local monitoring group, put the number of deaths at 60, including 10 women and 7 children, between April 22 and 24.
The Geneva peace talks have all but temporarily collapsed as the opposition, High Negotiations Committee. suspended its participation partly in protest of the renewed violence in Syria. Casualty figures had decreased since the cessation of hostilities was announced on February 26, but violence has escalated in the past two weeks.
On April 24, US President Barack Obama urged warring parties in Syria to return to peace talks and “reinstate” a ceasefire and announced the next day that the United States would send an additional 250 special forces troops to Syria to support local militias in the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
Human Rights Watch has urged the United Nations Security Council to suspend all military sales and assistance, including technical training and services, to all forces credibly implicated in serious violations in Syria; adopt targeted sanctions on commanders from all sides whose fighters are shown to be implicated in the most serious abuses or who are themselves responsible for serious abuses; and commit to a credible process to ensure criminal accountability for crimes by all sides. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on the Security Council to give the International Criminal Court a mandate in Syria.
“There was no military target or rebel group headquarters close by to the market,” said Bahaa al-Halabi, a media activist who was at the site of the bombing in Sakhour. “We saw children and old people under the destruction of the buildings.”
Photographs reviewed by Human Rights Watch showed rescue workers pulling bodies from the rubble of buildings and rushing bloodied civilians to ambulances. Video footage posted on Youtube by Syria Civil Defense showed fires among the twisted metal of destroyed buildings and destroyed vegetable carts, and strewn fruits and vegetables on the streets in what appeared to be a market.
Armed groups opposed to the government have also shelled government-held parts of Aleppo. The government news agency SANA reported that armed groups shelling the Aleppo neighborhoods of al-Izza, al-Zahraa, Sulaymaniyah, and Bab al-Faraj killed at least 20 civilians since April 22. Attacks were particularly intense on April 25, when SANA reported that armed groups’ shelling killed 16 people and injured 86. Photographs from the destruction showed scorched cars and a blood soaked street.
Security Council Resolution 2254, adopted on December 18, 2015, explicitly called on all parties to the conflict in Syria to “immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such, including attacks against medical facilities and personnel, and any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment.”
Deliberate or reckless attacks against civilians and civilian structures committed with criminal intent are war crimes. The laws of war require that the parties to a conflict take constant care during military operations to spare the civilian population and to “take all feasible precautions” to avoid or minimize the incidental loss of civilian life and damage to civilian objects.