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Barrel Bombs

Barrel bombs are Syrian improvised explosive devices - oil drums or other large containers packed with explosives, fuel, shrapnel, glass, and other lethal material. Their sole purpose is to maim, kill, and terrorize as many people as possible when they are dropped from Syrian government aircraft. They are usually rolled out of the back of helicopters and as such are rarely delivered with any accuracy.

Some barrel bombs are improvised incendiary devices. Large containers, usually oil drums, are stuffed with shrapnel such as nails, equipped with a fuse and filled with gasoline. Incendiary weapons, which cause injury using flame or heat, are expressly banned in populated civilian areas by the UN Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons. The use of such weapons may constitute a war crime, even though Syria is not a signatory to the Conventional Weapons prohibition.

In the US State Department Daily Press Briefing on 12 December 2012, Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said " ... we’re seeing use of another egregious weapon, this kind of barrel bomb, which is an incendiary bomb that contains flammable materials. It’s sort of a napalm-like thing, and it’s completely indiscriminate in terms of civilians, so very, very concerning and indicative of the regime’s desperation and the regime’s brutality."

On 03 December 2013 Syrian army helicopters were reported to have bombarded the northern rebel-held town of Al-Bab for a second day. Footage posted online showed the aftermath of attacks with civilians trying to flee fires while others carry the wounded to waiting ambulances. Twenty people including four women were killed when the improvised barrel bombs were dropped on the market district of the town. It cames just a day after 26 people were killed in a similar assault on the same town by president's forces.

In the US State Department Daily Press Briefing on 16 December 2013, Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said "We strongly condemn the latest development from over the weekend that the Assad regime has drooped barrel bombs in and around Aleppo, killing dozens, including women and children. These bombs and the explosive materials contained within them further underscore the brutality of the Assad regime and the lengths they will go to attack and kill their own people. This is yet another deadly weapon that Assad is using, again, against his own people.

"Unfortunately, this is not the first time these barrel bombs have been used against innocent civilians, and regime air raids in and around Aleppo have continued unabated. We are committed to our efforts to end the bloodshed there, to put an end to these horrific attacks. As we know, I’m sure there will be questions in here about where this process is going forward, but at the top wanted to very strongly condemn this latest development."

Targets have included schools, and bakeries, and mosques, and other civilian areas. Human Rights Watch researchers have documented the toll of the Syrian government’s airstrike campaign against Aleppo and Damascus, and in particular, the regime’s use of what has become known as ‘barrel bombs.’ In one stark video of a barrel bomb’s aftermath, a man stands in front of a child’s body and cries out, ‘Oh God, we’ve had enough. Please help us.’ Some 90 people were killed on 01 February 2014, as the Syrian air force attacked Aleppo’s Ansari district with barrel bombs. Another 60 or so people died over the following days, including 15 school boys, when one of the bombs struck a mosque that operates as a school.

A press statement by Secretary of State John Kerry on February 4, 2014 noted that "Each and every day that the barrel-bombing of Aleppo continues, the Asad regime reminds the world of its true colors. It is the latest barbaric act of a regime that has committed organized, wholesale torture, used chemical weapons, and is starving whole communities by blocking delivery of food to Syrian civilians in urgent need. Now, with air raids killing dozens more civilians in just the past few days, destroying apartment buildings, and barrel bombs striking a mosque today, the staggering civilian toll dramatically climbs. Each and every barrel bomb filled with metal shrapnel and fuel launched against innocent Syrians underscores the barbarity of a regime that has turned its country into a super magnet for terror. Given this horrific legacy, the Syrian people would never accept as legitimate a government including Asad.'

Amnesty International accused the Syrian army in May 2015 of killing more than 3,000 civilians since 2012 by barrel bombs in the northern city of Aleppo. Activists recorded more than 85 barrel bomb attacks in the last month alone, according to the report. The rights group said their report was based on eyewitness accounts from 78 former residents and 29 professionals, which were “verified with video evidence of the devastation.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied the air force uses barrel bombs — crude weapons made of oil drums, gas cylinders or water tanks packed with explosives and scrap metal.

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Page last modified: 30-05-2015 21:13:01 ZULU