Powerful new cluster bombs used in Syria

February 20, 2014 - 4:53:18 am

A view of the Iranian cultural centre (left) at the site of an explosion in the southern suburbs of Beirut, yesterday. Two suicide bombers targeted the Iranian cultural centre yesterday, killing four people and themselves in an attack claimed by Sunni militants who said it was a response to the intervention of Iran and Hezbollah in the Syrian war.

BEIRUT: The Syrian military has begun targeting opposition areas with a new type of cluster munitions rockets which is larger and more powerful than others in its arsenal, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said yesterday.

The New York-based group published photographs and witness testimony on its website which it said indicate that the army attacked the western town of Kafar Zeita on February 12 and 13 with at least four 300 mm rockets loaded with sub-munitions.

The attack occurred while a Syrian government delegation was in Geneva for peace talks with the opposition. The talks ended on Saturday without any progress.

Cluster bombs randomly scatter small munitions over a vast area. Many bomblets explode on impact, but some do not, becoming landmines that can endanger residents for years.

HRW said each of the rockets used this month contained up to 72 anti-personnel bomblets which are heavier and deadlier than types previously used in Syria’s nearly three-year-old conflict.

“It is appalling that Syrian government forces are still using banned cluster munitions on their people,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at HRW. “Cluster bombs are killing Syrian civilians now and threatening Syrians for generations to come.”

HRW said two civilians were killed and at least 10 wounded in the attacks this month. It could not confirm their source but said it was “highly unlikely” they came from the rebel side.

It cited a local activist from Kafar Zeita, 30km north of the city of Hama, who said the rockets were launched from Hama airport, which the Syrian government controls. He said there were no Free Syrian Army targets in the affected areas.

Due to media restrictions in Syria, it was not possible to independently verify the reports.

Kafar Zeita fell to rebels in December 2012 and has been the repeated target of Syrian government air strikes, artillery shelling and barrel bombs - crudely-made explosive containers.

More than 140,000 people have been killed in the Syrian war, which began with peaceful demonstrations against President Bashar Al Assad but turned into an armed uprising after security forces used violence on the protesters.

Meanwhile, Syria’s sacked rebel chief General Selim Idriss yesterday rejected his dismissal by opposition leaders and said the Free Syrian Army’s whole chain of command needed a “total restructuring.”

Speaking in a video statement flanked by several top field commanders of the FSA’s Supreme Military Council, the sacked rebel chief said: “We... have been asked to start working on a total restructuring of the SMC.”

Idriss lashed out at the opposition’s defence minister, Assaad Mustafa, who reportedly backed his replacement on Sunday by Brigadier General Abdel Ilah Al Bashir. He described Mustafa’s decisions as “improvised and individual.”

With the alleged backing of Mustafa and opposition chief Ahmad Jarba, the FSA’s larger Higher Military Council had on Sunday replaced Idriss, citing the “difficulties faced by the Syrian revolution” in its battle with the regime.

But several rebel leaders criticised the move, with some branding it an undemocratic “coup”.

“We consider the removal of... Idriss an invalid, illegitimate decision,” said a statement issued by all five top field commanders of the SMC, which Idriss had led from December 2012.

They vowed to continue fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime “under the leadership” of Idriss who was “elected democratically”.

Idriss had been voted in by military councils on the ground.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a well-connected rebel in Syria said Idriss’s removal was decided in a “secret meeting” of the Higher Military Council, which many key rebels have abandoned in recent months. “Regardless of Idriss’s shortcomings, this is a military coup,” said the rebel. “The main problem is: why weren’t all the military councils called in to vote?”

Idriss had long faced criticism by rebels on the ground for failing to secure more weapons from foreign backers.

But an FSA source said that it was not Idriss’s fault that foreign governments had chosen to channel the bulk of their support directly to rebel units on the ground rather than through him.

“General Selim Idriss did everything he could to strengthen the (FSA),” the source said, asking not to be identified.

“The Supreme Military Council has in the past year received only $3m in assistance,” the source added.Agencies

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