AI index: MDE 24/078/2012
19 September 2012
Syria: Indiscriminate attacks terrorize and displace civilians
Indiscriminate air bombardments and artillery strikes by the Syrian army are killing,
maiming and terrorizing the residents of Jabal al-Zawiya and other parts of the Idlib and
north Hama regions.
Every day civilians are killed or injured in their homes, in the street, while running for cover or trying to shelter from the bombings. Hundreds have been killed or injured in recent weeks, many of them children, in indiscriminate attacks.
Battlefield weapons and munitions – unguided bombs dropped from the air and imprecise artillery shells and mortars which have a wide impact radius and cannot be aimed at specific targets – are now being used daily against residential areas, significantly increasing the number of civilian casualties. Such indiscriminate attacks violate fundamental provisions of international humanitarian law, as they fail to distinguish between military targets and civilian objects. In the Idlib, Jabal al-Zawiya and north Hama regions, where Amnesty International carried out its investigations for this report, such attacks account for the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties in the current phase of the conflict and have forced massive civilian displacement. Unexploded ordnance and remnants of weapons founds at the scene of strikes in the areas visited by Amnesty International include: air delivered Soviet era unguided fragmentary OFAB-100-120 bombs and other unidentified unguided bombs packed full of pieces of metal rods for maximum impact; 122mm artillery shells; 120mm mortars (in one case an 82 mm mortar); and S5 rockets.
Some towns and villages have been virtually emptied of their residents, many of whom are now camping out in the surrounding countryside or hiding in caves; others are crowding in with relatives in what they hope are safer areas, while others have sought refuge in Turkey –or are currently stuck at the border with Turkey waiting to flee the country. With the attention of the international media mostly focused on the fighting in Aleppo and the capital, hardly any news reaches the outside world about the horrors of daily life for the residents of Idlib, Jabal al-Zawiya and north Hama regions.
Amnesty International visited 26 towns and villages between 31 August and 11 September and carried out on-the-ground field investigations into indiscriminate attacks which killed 166 civilians (including 48 children and 20 women) and injured hundreds of others. In recent days Amnesty International has continued to receive information from residents of several villages about ongoing air and artillery attacks, some of which have resulted in yet more civilian casualties.1
While the presence of fighters and military objectives from all parties within residential
areas has further heightened the risk of harm to the civilian population,2 there were no
armed confrontations or activities by armed opposition fighters at the times of all of the
attacks documented in this report except one (detailed below), nor were there military
targets near the locations struck during these attacks, which were indiscriminate by the
nature of the munitions and the manner in which they were used. The random nature of the strikes, which did not target fighters or military objectives, suggests that the aim of such strikes may be to punish residents of towns and villages which are now under the de-facto control of opposition forces for their presumed support for the opposition. If this is indeed the aim of the bombardments, these would constitute direct attacks on civilians/civilian objects.
Amnesty International witnessed daily indiscriminate air strikes and shelling in towns and villages throughout the region, several of which killed or injured civilians.
In the afternoon of 1 September a mortar landed in a residential area in the centre of Kan
Safra, in Jabal al-Zawiya, killing Khaled Yamani, a young man from a nearby village who
was there to visit his fiancée. His father was also injured. A resident of the neighbourhood said: “Khaled and his father had just got out of the car and Khaled was locking the car door when the mortar landed right next to him. He was killed on the spot, torn to pieces. His father was already across the road and was injured but not too seriously because most of the shrapnel flew in the opposite direction.”
Nearby houses were sprayed with shrapnel, which penetrated at least one house where
residents told Amnesty International they had escaped injury because they had been hiding in a more sheltered part of the house, under the stairs in the basement.
Four days later, two more shells landed in the centre of the village, in the gardens of two
houses. The soft garden soil largely contained the impact of the blast, but shrapnel from
the shells cut down trees around the gardens and tore large holes in the outer walls of
nearby houses. One family were sitting in their front garden when one of the shells fell in
the back. The owner of the house told Amnesty International: “We are hosting our relatives who have escaped the bombing in another village. Had the shell landed on this side of the house, we would all have been killed. Nowhere is safe anymore. Where can we go?” A young woman who was in the other house told Amnesty International: “I was standing by the window in the living room and my little girl was by my feet, when I heard an incredibly loud bang and the glass from the window shattered and flew down on us. I thought we were going to die”.
Ma’arat Misrin, a town of some 40,000 a few kilometres from Idlib city, was until a few
weeks ago hosting families who had escaped army incursions and fighting in towns and