Syrian government forces have bombed and fired artillery at or near at least ten bakeries in Aleppo province over the past three weeks, killing and wounding dozens of civilians who were waiting for bread, Human Rights Watch said.
The attacks "are at least recklessly indiscriminate and the pattern and number of attacks suggest that government forces have been targeting civilians," the New York-based organisation said in a report today. "Both reckless indiscriminate attacks and deliberately targeting civilians are war crimes."
An attack in the city of Aleppo on 16 August killed about 60 people and wounded more than 70, HRW said, while another attack in the city on 21 August killed at least 23 people and wounded 30.
Fighting in the Aleppo province between government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition Free Syrian Army have caused flour shortages forcing many bakeries to close, while civilians queue in long lines outside remaining working bakeries to buy bread.
“Day after day, Aleppo residents line up to get bread for their families, and instead get shrapnel piercing their bodies from government bombs and shells,” said Ole Solvang, HRW emergencies researcher who recently returned from Aleppo. “Ten bakery attacks is not random – they show no care for civilians and strongly indicate an attempt to target them.”
HRW said its researchers visited six of the attacked bakeries, interviewed witnesses and collected credible information about other attacks.
"In all of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, with the exception of the Manbij bakery attack, government forces attacked the bakery when local residents were waiting in line," HRW said. "The ordnance, which included artillery shells, rockets, and bombs, hit very close to the lines, and pieces of shrapnel sprayed the people gathered, killing and seriously wounding scores of them. In a few cases, people waiting in line ran away before the attack when they heard the approaching fighter jets."
International sanctions and nearly 18 months of political unrest in the country that has so far claimed more than 20,000 lives, according to activists and opposition groups, have slowed the pace of economic growth. The United Nations estimates about 20,000 have lost their lives. European and US sanctions have increased pressure on President Bashar al-Assad's administration as fuel shortages and a depreciating currency further threaten the stability of the country.
"International humanitarian law (laws of war) prohibits attacks directed at civilians and civilian objects and indiscriminate attacks," HRW said. "Serious violations of the laws of war, including deliberate, indiscriminate, and disproportionate attacks harming civilians committed with criminal intent – that is, deliberately or recklessly – constitute war crimes. Commanders and civilian leaders may be prosecuted for war crimes when they order, assist, or are otherwise complicit in the attacks and also as a matter of command responsibility when they knew or should have known about the commission of war crimes and took insufficient measures to prevent them or punish those responsible."
The ten bakeries were providing bread for the civilian population and were "clearly civilian objects," the organisation said.
"Every pilot who deliberately launches a rocket at a bread line of civilians, and every commander who gives such an order, should face justice for their crimes,” Solvang said.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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