Rights group calls for U.N. arms embargo on Syria over barrel bombs

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 24, 2015 2:06 PM

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.S.-based human rights group accused the Syrian government on Tuesday of indiscriminate aerial attacks, most with barrel bombs, that have killed thousands of civilians in the past 11 months, and called for an United Nations arms embargo.

Human Rights Watch said Syrian forces carried out at least 1,450 air attacks in southwestern Daraa and northern Aleppo.

"The majority appear to be barrel bomb attacks," Human Rights Watch deputy Middle East and North Africa director Nadim Houry told a news conference. Barrel bombs are containers packed with explosives and projectiles and dropped from helicopters.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview broadcast earlier this month that the Syrian air force did not use the lethal devices. U.S. and European officials have said Assad's denial was not credible.

A spokesman for the Syrian military was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Feb. 22 last year that demanded all parties stop indiscriminate attacks in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment such as the use of barrel bombs. It threatened "further steps" in the case of non-compliance.

"The Security Council has done nothing to enforce its own words," Houry said.

Human Rights Watch called for a targeted arms embargo to be imposed on the Syrian government and other rebel groups responsible for widespread abuses. Militant groups Islamic State and al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, who are fighting in Syria, are already subject to a United Nations arms embargo.

The U.N. Security Council has long been deadlocked on Syria with Assad's ally Russia -- backed by China -- vetoing several resolutions on the Syrian conflict, which started with a pro-democracy movement in 2011 and grew into an armed uprising.

Human Rights Watch said it examined satellite imagery and had identified at least 450 major damage sites in 10 towns and villages held by rebels in the Daraa and more than 1,000 in Aleppo between Feb. 22, 2014 and Jan 15, 2015.

"While deaths from aerial attacks are not exclusively from barrel bombs, residents from rebel held territory in Daraa and Aleppo told Human Rights Watch that barrel bombs account for a majority of air strikes," the group said.

Human Rights Watch cited a report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, which said barrel bombs had killed 6,163 civilians, including 1,892 children, since Feb. 22, 2014.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Christian Plumb)