Amid reports that Russia has been using cluster bombs in Syria, at least 200 civilians are reported to have been killed by Russian airstrikes, according to a human rights watchdog.
According to a new report published by Amnesty International, at least 200 civilians have been killed by Russian airstrikes in Syria since Moscow launched its military campaign in late September, according to CBC.
The human rights organization called the airstrikes “serious failures to respect international humanitarian law” and said they may amount to war crimes. The report analyzed 25 Russia airstrikes ranging from September 30 till November 29 in the Syrian provinces of Homs, Hama, Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo.
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Amnesty conducted the analysis remotely and relied on phone interviews with people on the ground as well as pictures and videos taken after Russian airstrikes. The human rights organization also used open-source reports and cooperated with other agencies such as the United Nations.
In one of the airstrikes, Amnesty says Russia fighter jets fired three deadly missiles into a crowded marketplace. As a result, 49 civilians were killed, while military targets were present. Although Russia is known to have precision-guided munitions in its possession, it has been predominately using unguided weapons or the so-called “dumb bombs,” with many of them being decades old, against targets in Syria.
Russia kills civilians in Syria with cluster bombs
During some of the deadly airstrikes, Russia’s warplanes indiscriminately bombed populated civilian areas and used cluster bombs. Cluster bombs release a number of projectiles at a time and are capable of killing and injuring civilians long after airstrikes and bombing raids because they have a tendency to not explode on impact.
As many as 108 countries have banned the use of cluster bombs, but not Russia, the United States, China, India, Israel, Pakistan and Brazil, all of which use, produce or stockpile significant quantities of cluster munitions.
The report published by Amnesty also said that the human rights group contacted the Russian Ministry of Defense and requested information about additional attacks, but the Russian ministry has not responded to any of Amnesty’s requests.
But the chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on Defense and Security immediately responded to Amnesty’s report, calling it a “provocation,” according to Sputnik News. Viktor Ozerov, the chairman, said that if Russia had indeed used cluster bombs against civilians, the international community would have raised the issue in the U.N. Security Council.
The air campaign of the United States has also been a matter of concern regarding indiscriminate bombings of civilians, while the Pentagon has admitted to only a few civilian casualties since the beginning of its air campaign against ISIS. A watchdog group Airwars.org claims that U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria have killed over 700 civilians since August 2014.
Russia is prepared to step up military campaign in Syria
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s air campaign in Syria is not calming down. Moreover, Putin said his military is ready to step up its “military means” in Syria if necessary. While Russia has predominately used military aircraft to strike targets across Syria, other military equipment have also been spotted on the front lines, along with Russian advisers.
Nearly 300,000 people are reported to have been killed in the Syrian war, while millions of others have been displaced.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov reacted to the alleged use of cluster bombs by the Russians, saying that Russian armed forces in Syria conducts its business in line with international law.
“Russia is conducting its operation in strict conformity with principles and norms of the international law, including those sections of the international law that regulate using and bans on using one or another type of weapons,” Peskov told reporters.
Russia claims its airstrikes are targeting exclusively ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria as well as other “terrorists,” but Western officials and U.S.-backed Syrian rebels say most of Russia’s airstrikes have been predominantly in central and northern Syria, where there is no strong presence of ISIS.
Russian missile system threatens U.S. pilots
Russia’s recently deployed S-400 missile systems in Syria are capable of reaching targets in the regions with U.S. presence, according to a new analysis, as reported by The Washington Free Beacon.
The S-400 systems were deployed by Russia at the end of November after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane that violated Turkish airspace. The advanced air defense system with surface-to-air missiles was installed in the coastal Latakia Province at Bassel al-Assad International Airport.
According to reports, the S-400 missile system has a range of up to 250 miles and can detect and target aircraft at multiple bases in the region nearby. The region includes two bases with U.S. presence: Incirlik Airbase in Turkey, and the Al-Shaheed Muwaffaq Salti Airbase in Jordan.
“The S-400 SAM system is capable of contesting most of the airspace over Syria, southern Turkey, northern Jordan, a significant portion of Israel, as well as all of Lebanon and Cyprus,” the Institute for the Study of War said.
“At 250 miles, the S-400 is able to track and target aircraft based at numerous United States and Allied Coalition airbases (including Incirlik Airbase) in the region,” the think tank added.
U.S. military officials have repeatedly raised concerns about the possible threat that the Russia’s S-400 missile system presents to American pilots who operate in Syria and Iraq. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, the Pentagon spokesman, said earlier this month that Russia deployed “a capability that we don’t see as being productive in the fight against ISIL.”