News / Middle East

Syria Barrel Bombs Sow Terror

Crude Weapon Kills Syrian Civiliansi
X
February 13, 2014 7:58 PM
As peace talks continue in Geneva with little progress, human rights groups and opposition fighters say the Syrian government has increased its use of primitive, inaccurate weapons called “barrel bombs,” with a devastating impact on civilians in contested areas. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
VIDEO: With Geneva talks showing little progress, human rights groups and opposition fighters say the Syrian government has increased its use of primitive, inaccurate weapons called “barrel bombs,” with a devastating impact on civilians in contested areas. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Jamie DettmerAl Pessin
Every war brings a new terror. In recent weeks so-called "barrel bombs" dropped from helicopters into rebel-held areas have emerged as the latest weapon of terror to kill and maim thousands of mostly innocent civilians.
 
But now some rebel leaders are hinting the reign of terror brought on by the barrel bombs, assembled and deployed by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad, could be coming to an end.
 
Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba told a Middle East television news station a few days ago that advanced arms are en route, including weapons designed to help opposition “get rid of these aircraft” — the government helicopters and warplanes that dump the explosives- or fuel-laden barrels over rebel territory.
 
He would not say which countries would supply the missiles that rebels have long urged foreign backers to provide.

Kerry speaks out
 
FILE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.FILE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
x
FILE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
FILE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
​The day before Jarba’s interview U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry forcefully condemned an increased use by the Assad regime of crude-but-deadly barrel-bombs, especially on rebel-held districts in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
 
“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,” Kerry said in remarks issued by the State Department.
 
On February 4, the Syrian opposition activists accused the regime of dropping a bomb on the Ottoman Bin Affan mosque in Aleppo, which was being used as a school. Fifteen boys were killed in the attack.
 
The U.S. and other Western governments sympathetic to the anti-Assad uprising have held back from supplying rebels with portable surface-to-air missiles, often called SAMS or MANPADS, for “Man-Portable-Air-Defense-System.”
 
One reason cited by U.S. officials in the past is that such missiles, capable of shooting down a commercial aircraft, could fall into the hands of terrorists or foreign Jihadists. And rebel commanders and Western diplomats say Washington had urged the Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia and Qatar not to provide them to the rebels.

Rebels have managed to secure some MANPADS on the black market, but not in sizeable quantities, they say.

A new tactic
 
Opposition activists say there has been a clear uptick in the use of barrel bombs in recent weeks, starting in December in the run-up to the Geneva 2 peace talks.
 
This week activists posted harrowing online footage of the crude devices being dropped on the southern Damascus suburb of Daraya during the Geneva 2 peace talks, the first round of which ended without agreement amid bitter recriminations between the warring sides. 
 
Men inspect a site hit by what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the al-Sukkari neighborhood in Aleppo, Feb. 4, 2014.Men inspect a site hit by what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the al-Sukkari neighborhood in Aleppo, Feb. 4, 2014.
x
Men inspect a site hit by what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the al-Sukkari neighborhood in Aleppo, Feb. 4, 2014.
Men inspect a site hit by what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the al-Sukkari neighborhood in Aleppo, Feb. 4, 2014.
And government forces have been pounding several rebel-held areas of Aleppo with barrel bombs. Aleppo has been divided since rebels captured several districts in 2012, but government forces have started a new offensive on eastern approaches to the city. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based pro-opposition monitoring group that relies on a network of informants inside Syria, as many as a hundred people have been killed by barrel-bombs in Aleppo over the past few days.
 
Another rights group, the Violation Documentation Center, says that of the 433 people killed in Aleppo province airstrikes between November 22 and December 18, only eight were rebel fighters.
 
According to rights groups, the bombs, first used in August 2012, are rudimentary devices made from oil drums or cylindrical containers packed with TNT and an assortment of metal parts, steel fragments or fuel, which are then topped off with a basic fuse that detonates on impact. Not equipped with any kind of guidance system, the bombs are simply rolled out of helicopters.

Perfect terror weapon
 
According to Richard Lloyd, a technology consultant, the bombs are a cost-effective way of striking at built-up areas and sowing terror by killing arbitrarily.

“The main objective of the Syrian barrel bomb program is to provide cheap and lethal damage on urban areas in Syria,” Lloyd wrote in a post for the influential Brown Moses Blog.

But according to Peter Quentin of the Royal United Services Institute, who spoke via Skype, cost isn't the only factor that makes improvised devices Damascus's weapon of choice.

“I would say these are all about the symbolism, the psychological destructive nature of this," he said. "It’s the terrorizing of a population.”

Experts say barrel bombs are impossible to aim accurately and become increasingly indiscriminate as government aircraft fly higher to avoid rebel fire. A new innovation, altitude-sensitive fuses, make the bombs explode before they hit the ground, causing even more widespread damage.

In this regard, says Brian Wood, head of Amnesty International's program on arms control and human rights, barrel bombs intimidate just like the chemical weapons the Syrian government was forced to stop using last year.

“The Syrian government is getting away with another form of indiscriminate bombing, and the only way that will stop is if the world’s greatest powers get together and call them to account," said Wood. "There is detailed and overwhelming evidence that the armed forces of the Syrian government are committing crimes against humanity and a systematic pattern of widespread war crimes and human rights violations.”

Human-rights groups have condemned the Syrian air force’s use of barrel bombs, arguing that as an indiscriminate weapon they breach international laws of war, citing the UN Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, which prohibits incendiary weapons intended to cause injury “through the action of flame or heat” being used in civilian areas.

Human Rights Watch in December accused the Assad government of dropping barrel bombs on residential and shopping areas in rebel-held territory regardless of whether there was a military target. According to Ole Solvang, a senior emergencies researcher with the New York-based group, “the Syrian Air Force is either criminally incompetent, doesn’t care whether it kills scores of civilians, or deliberately targets civilian areas.”

War crimes
 
FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
x
FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
In December, Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, indicated that a U.N. rights monitoring commission on Syria was investigating the Assad government for war crimes, among them indiscriminate government artillery bombardments and air strikes on towns and villages. The U.N.’s commission of inquiry is also looking into war crimes committed by rebel forces, say U.N. officials.
 
Barrel bombs aren’t the only ordnance being unleashed on civilians and rebel fighters alike. The use of cluster munitions and fuel-air bombs have also been documented. Last October, eyewitness testimony and video-evidence suggested a fuel-air bomb was dropped in the rebel-held city of Raqqa in the north of the country. The bomb hit a school killing at least 16.
 
Fuel-air bombs are not considered chemical weapons, as they don’t unleash nerve agents or toxic gases. But they do utilize a chemical reaction with air to generate a super-intense, high-temperature explosion and a cloud of burning fuel. The U.S. first developed them for use in Vietnam and the Russians used them in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Military analysts say the fuel-air bomb dropped at Raqqa was likely a Russian-supplied ODAB device.
 
The Syrian government argues that military operations target “terrorist groups” and they complain that rebels often use schools as barracks or as unit headquarters. At the Geneva 2 talks, when asked by the press about the use of barrel bombs, Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, said: “I want to give you a simple response. Do you want [us] to defend our people by sending SMS messages?”

VOA contributor Jamie Dettmer reported from Beirut and correspondent Al Pessin reported from London.

Images from Syria

  • A man waves his arms at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad in the al-Shaar district, Aleppo, Feb. 9, 2014. 
  • A man walks at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad in the al-Shaar district, Aleppo, Feb. 9, 2014. 
  • A boy sits next to a trolley containing belongings at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing, Aleppo, Feb. 9, 2014. 
  • Civilians carry their belongings as they walk at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing, a passageway separating the Bustan al-Qasr district, which is under the rebels' control and the Al-Masharqa district, an area controlled by the Assad regime, Aleppo, Feb.  9, 2014. 
  • People wheel a sick man on a makeshift stretcher at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing, Aleppo, Feb. 9, 2014. 
  • Boys walk along a damaged street in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria, Feb. 6, 2014.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter sits amid the rubble of damaged buildings in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria, Feb. 6, 2014.
  • People sit on the top of a truck at the Syrian border crossing of Bab al-Hawa, at the Syrian-Turkish border, Feb. 6, 2014.
  • Fighters from the Amjad al-Islam brigades stand near an improvised artillery weapon in eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter holds a teapot as he runs to avoid snipers in Deir al-Zor, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • People walk along a street as men ride on a motorcycle in Deir al-Zor, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters take cover during the launch of a homemade rocket towards forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad near the Justice Palace and the Citadel of Aleppo, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • A man pulls a trolley as a woman walks behind at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing, a passageway separating Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr, which is under the rebels' control and Al-Masharqa neighborhood, an area controlled by the regime, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows a U.N. relief worker giving food supplies to a Palestinian woman in a wheelchair at the gate of the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp on the southern edge of Damascus, Feb. 4, 2014.
  • This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows residents of the besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp carrying their belongings as they flee the camp on the southern edge of Damascus, Feb. 4, 2014.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
February 09, 2014 4:03 AM
Barrel Bombs are WORSE than chemical weapons. Chemical weapons do not destroy anything other than life. These barrel bombs are destroying Syrian peoples homes, businesses, streets, religous places, historical places, infrastructure the list goes on.

hands down bashar al assad is the biggest terror threat to Syrian humanity. He has to be arrested and prosecuted for such crimes.

Meenwhile the world does nothing but add up a list of assads crimes. Many thousands of deaths later he will be prosecuted if he doesn't kill himself.

by: ali baba from: new york
February 08, 2014 4:18 PM
whatever happen in Syria is the business of Syrian . Us should not interfere regardless of the course of action launched By Bashar El Assad. Syria was living peacefully until the terrorist organization such as Osama bin laden group has taken part of a conflict that cause a civil war and many hundred of thousand lost their lives. Many fled the country and live in misery in middle east country. these terrorist group will not leave Syria until the country is totally destroyed . these terrorist are well finance and they have adequate supply of arm. they imported woman for their pleasure and they called sexual jihad.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs