Syria was a country of fertile plains, large deserts and high mountains, a hospitable home to minorities and miscellaneous ethnic and religious groups, from Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Christians and Druze to Shia and Sunnis. It was one of the luxuriant destinations of tourists and the focus of investors. Till one day, a civil war, which begun with protests against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, took place in March 2011 and divided the country into government-supporters and opposition. Ever since then, wars crimes and bloody fights have never come to an end. The conflict heated-up in the past few weeks.
The media has been focusing on the recent Amnesty International report accusing the Bashar regime of crimes against humanity and opposition groups of war crimes. These crimes has led Amnesty reporters into calling Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, the “Circle of Hell”.
Since September 2014, the American-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes in Syria, trying to take down militants of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
On May 1st, 2015, around 52 civilians were killed in the village of Bir Mahli, in Aleppo, Northern Syria, following airstrikes shepherded by the United States and allies against the militants of ISIS. The reports were provided by a Syrian monitoring group and local activists. Nine of the 52 civilians were children.
On May 3rd, 2015, activists opposing to the government posted videos showing corpuses of children being pulled out by their parents from a nursery school in the Saif al-Dawla district, a school that was struck by a bomb dropped from a government helicopter. Four children, one teacher and five civilians were killed.
On May 4th, 2015, al-Sakhour hospital, one of the largest cities of Syria, was hit repetitively in airstrikes led by the government.
Amnesty Accuses President Bashar of Crimes Against Humanity
Not only have activists and monitoring groups confirmed the attacks which were targeting civilians and were led by the government, a report published by Amnesty International has also validated the claims saying that government forces have been committing a number of war crimes.
The international organization declared that from January 2014 to March 2015, the government initiated incessant strikes using barrel bombs on areas that were held by rebels.
Amnesty report stated that the government “deliberately targeted civilians and civilian objects”, describing their actions as “hostile”.
“Such a systematic attack on the civilian population, when carried out as part of government policy as appears to have been the case in the besieged city, would also constitute a crime against humanity,” the report added.
So far, their airstrikes targeted 14 public markets, 12 transportation hubs, 23 mosques, 17 hospitals and medical centers and three schools.
President Bashar Pleaded not Guilty
In an interview with the BBC, President Bashar al-Assad denied the accusation of using barrel bombs.
However, in a report released two weeks later by the Human Rights Watch, the accusations were confirmed, saying that “hundreds of new indiscriminate attacks over the past year with air-delivered munitions, including improvised weapons such as barrel bombs.”
One month ago, media reports released by the CNN declared that eye witnesses from Yarmouk, the largest Palestinian refugee camp located on the borders of Damascus, said that government forces had targeted the camp with barrel bombs as a response to the breaking in conducted by ISIS militants.
“This is Yarmouk camp, and we are not leaving our homes,” one eye witness told CNN. “Whatever happens, if they keep hitting us with barrel bombs, we will die.”
Attacks using barrel bombs killed more than 3,000 civilians in Aleppo governorate last year and have contributed in creating a climate of fear, as it has been revealed in the report.
Armed opposition groups Accused of War Crimes
In their latest report, Amnesty International declared that the armed opposition groups in Aleppo have also contributed to these war crimes in their own way. Their random attacks have caused the death of around 600 civilians in 2014 as they used mortars and improvised rockets fitted with gas canisters which they have called “hell cannons”.
The report concluded: “Both sides are violating international humanitarian law and must be held to account. However, throughout the more than four years since the crisis began, government forces have been responsible for the large majority of violations and crimes.”
The report was based on analysis of images and videos shot during the attacks along with more than 100 interviews with current and former residents and activists from Aleppo. It contained 74 pages and delivered documents containing “unthinkable atrocities”.
Local and foreign journalists have also been targeted by the warring parties. Some have been kidnapped while others have been killed covering the fighting in Syria. This has led to a smaller number of foreign journalists going to Syria. But more and more journalists are taking precautions like doing hostile environment awareness training before deploying to conflict zones.