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Wed 19 Sep 2012 10:11 AM

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Syrian civilian death toll on rise - Amnesty

Lobbyist group says children among victims of indiscriminate Syrian army bombing

Syrian civilian death toll on rise - Amnesty
Rebels have been fighting the Syrian government for 18 months (AFP/Getty Images).

Civilians, including many children, are the main victims of indiscriminate Syrian army bombing and shelling of areas abandoned to opposition forces, Amnesty International said in a report on Wednesday.

The London-based international human rights group said its first-hand field investigations had revealed a pattern of relentless attacks by President Bashar al-Assad's military on territory lost to rebels in the north of the country.

It reported in a briefing paper that in the first half of September, 166 civilians, including 48 children and 20 women, had been killed and hundreds wounded in 26 towns and villages in the Idlib, Jabal al-Zawiya and north Hama regions.

Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's Senior Crisis Response Adviser, said the "horrors" in this area had been under-reported because global attention had been focused on fighting in the capital Damascus and the country's biggest city Aleppo.

"Government forces now routinely bomb and shell towns and villages using battlefield weapons which cannot be aimed at specific targets, knowing that the victims of such indiscriminate attacks are almost always civilians," said Rovera, who recently returned from northern Syria.

Amnesty said it had witnessed daily air attacks, artillery and mortar strikes in towns and villages in the region, and the use of such imprecise weaponry against residential areas had led to a dramatic rise in civilian casualties.

Attacks near hospitals and on bread queues appeared to be deliberately targeted at civilians, and thus constituted war crimes, Amnesty added.

Syrian authorities have denied any deliberate targeting of civilians in the conflict.

Opposition fighters had also used imprecise weapons in populated areas and Amnesty said that if the Free Syrian Army and others obtained long-range arms, the risk of more indiscriminate attacks and other abuses could increase.

The revolt, which began as peaceful street protests cracked down on by Assad's military, has escalated over the course of 18 months into a civil war in which over 27,000 people have died.

Daily death tolls now approach 200 and the last month was the bloodiest yet.