The worst-hit areas have been civilian population centres
Assad drops almost 70,000 barrel bombs on Syria, study finds
Bashar al Assad's regime has dropped almost 70,000 barrel bombs on Syria during the country’s near seven-year civil war, according to a report released this week.
The report, published by the non-profit Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), is perhaps the most extensive study into the use of the indiscriminate crude weapon and tracks how it became synonymous with the Assad regime’s brutal war apparatus.
The study notes that between July 2012 and December 2017, no less than 68,334 barrel bombs were dropped by Syrian regime helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, resulting in at least 10,763 deaths, many of them civilian.
It claimed at least 565 separate attacks on vital civilian facilities, including though not limited to schools and hospitals. There were at least 54 attacks on mosques.
The report notes that the majority of these were carried out after the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution 2139 - adopted on February 22, 2014. The resolution explicitly called for a cessation in the use of the weapon.
The worst hit areas have been civilian population centres, such as the governorate of Damascus. The capital and its suburbs were hit by some 22,149 bombs between 2012 and 2017, whilst the tiny suburb of Khan al Sheih alone was hit by 3,127 bombs during the same period of time.
The report also charts the Assad regime’s use of chemical agents, deployed through barrel bombs. It states that in 2014 the regime began “adding poison chemical substances in the form of cylinders carrying a poison gas” to the bombs, noting 87 instances of attacks with poisoned barrel bombs. The first having taken place on April 10th 2014 in Kafr Zita, a northern suburb of Hama.
It notes that all of these chemical substance attacks took place after the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution 2139.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman of SNHR, lambasted the international community for its inaction:
“The repeated use of this arbitrary, indiscriminate weapon against residential communities is a message to the Syrian people that protecting civilians and the international law are mere illusions, and that you have to submit and accept the regime that is killing you”.
Ghany also called on the UN to do more: “(The) Security Council has to take decisive action against the Syrian regime’s use of arbitrary weapons on this large, widespread scale. The UN special envoy has also to play a more effectual role in putting an end to the winter of barrel bombs in Syria.”
The report’s methodology draws on daily, routine, monitoring and documentation in addition to accounts by eyewitnesses, local media activists and survivors, as well as the use of online videos and pictures. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch noted on Twitter that the barrel bombs were “good mainly for killing civilians”.
According to Kyle Orton, an analyst at the British think tank Henry Jackson Society, the effect of the bombs goes beyond the material damage and casualties they cause.
“Barrel bombs in conventional military terms are not especially useful. There is little ability to direct a barrel bomb, and their use against military hardware is limited," Mr Orton told The National. "But it is these characteristics that have proven so useful for the pro-Assad coalition: barrel bombs are used to terrorize, and the fact (that) they are indiscriminate and most useful against unarmed civilians is a feature, not a bug.”