(New York) – A series of car bombings and suicide attacks targeting civilian bus stations and a hospital in Syrian government-controlled areas on May 23, 2016, would appear to constitute war crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. The ISIS news agency Amaq said that ISIS claimed responsibility for attacks, in Latakia province, saying that suicide bombers targeted areas where “Alawites gather.” Deliberately targeting civilians is a war crime, and anyone involved in preparing, ordering, or carrying out such a crime should be held accountable.
The Syrian state news agency SANA reported that 78 people died when a series of car bombs and suicide attacks ripped through the cities of Tartous and Jableh, in the Latakia province. SANA said that 45 people were killed in Jableh and 33 in Tartous. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a local monitoring group, said that at least 145 people died in the attacks.
“The deadly attacks on bus stations and a hospital in Syria’s coastal towns show the assailants’ callous disregard for civilian life,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director. “In the face of such horrors, it’s more important than ever to make it a top priority to protect Syria’s civilians – regardless of whom they support, where they live, or their religion.”
SANA reported that two suicide bombers wearing explosive vests targeted the entrance of the Jableh bus station, and another suicide bomber targeted the emergency entrance of the Jableh National Hospital and the electrical company, while a car bomb exploded at the Tartous bus station and a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest inside the station.
The Syrian Observatory reported that the second attack at the Tartous bus station came as people gathered in response to the first. Video shot by SANA showed charred vehicles and minibuses in what seemed to be a bus station. Al-Ikhbareya, a pro-government news station, showed footage of twisted metal, damage to buildings, and blood spilled on the ground.
The May 23 bombings and suicide attacks are part of an ongoing series of atrocities by the extremist group the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, throughout Syria, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch has previously documented deliberate attacks on civilians by ISIS and other armed groups against areas inhabited by Alawites or other civilians who are sometimes perceived to be supporting the government.
All warring parties, including non-state groups, are prohibited from conducting attacks that deliberately target civilians, that do not distinguish between civilians and combatants, or that cause civilian loss disproportionate to the expected military gain. Planning, ordering, or carrying out unlawful attacks with criminal intent is a war crime.
“While it may be impossible to influence the criminal behavior of ISIS, Syria’s multiple warring sides and the international parties that support them can and should do more not only to condemn such ISIS attacks but also to ensure that they stop targeting civilians,” Houry said.