By Jonathan Marcus BBC defence correspondent
Activists said more than 70 people were killed when barrel bombs hit Aleppo in mid-December
For all the attention given to the issue of chemical weapons in Syria the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of deaths and injuries – especially civilian deaths and injuries – are caused by conventional weapons.
Many of them – like the barrel bombs reportedly used again in Aleppo by Syrian government forces during recent days – are home-made, relatively crude and totally indiscriminate in their impact.
The barrel bomb is essentially a large, home-made incendiary device. An oil barrel or similar cylindrical container filled with petrol, nails or other crude shrapnel, along with explosives. With an appropriate fuse, they are simply rolled out of a helicopter.
The first recorded use of such weapons goes back to late-August 2012.
Since then, weapons experts like the blogger Brown Moses and human rights groups have closely monitored their role in the conflict.
Large pipes were initially used but more recent examples have been more the size of oil drums. The weapons have been captured on video both in storage from a site overrun by rebel forces and also in at least one instance actually being rolled out of a government helicopter. Unexploded munitions have also been photographed.
Incendiary weapons which are defined as those intended to cause injury “through the action of flame or heat” are banned from use in populated civilian areas under the terms of the UN Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons. While Syria is not a party to the convention, the campaigning group Human Rights Watch has insisted that the employment of these weapons constitutes a war crime and that those responsible should be held to account.
International efforts to condemn the use of such weapons have been stymied again this week with Russia reportedly refusing to back a Western-proposed text at the UN Security Council that would have condemned the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for carrying out such indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas.
Rebels say government forces have been using barrel bombs in Aleppo for days
Why use them?
A spokesman for the US delegation reacted angrily, noting that the US was “very disappointed that a Security Council statement expressing our collective outrage at the brutal and indiscriminate tactics employed by the Syrian regime against civilians has been blocked”.
This, of course, is consistent with Moscow’s broader diplomatic approach. As one of the Syrian government’s few allies, it has blocked any concerted UN Security Council action on Syria.
Quite why the Syrian government should resort to the use of these home-made munitions is unclear.
While in no sense accurate, they are probably easier to deploy from helicopters over built-up areas.
Hitting such targets with fast-moving fixed-wing aircraft would be more difficult.
Syria of course has also used a variety of Russian-supplied air-delivered cluster munitions which again are highly indiscriminate weapons when used in civilian areas.
The Syrian government’s use of these types of munitions against its own population in rebel-held areas is a measure of the brutality of the conflict, which shows no sign of abating even as plans to remove chemical stocks from the country move into high gear.
December 19, 2013
Call to Join the International Hunger Strike
Syrians are slowly dying of malnutrition – but not for lack of food. A military blockade surrounds dozens of Syrian towns. This starvation siege prevents 1.5 million Syrians from receiving food or medicine.
Qusai Zakarya is one of them. He is 28 years old. Qusai declared a hunger strike on November 26, to demand food and medicine be allowed to reach civilians across military lines in Syria. “We are all hungry here in my hometown anyway. Let me be hungry for a purpose,” Qusai says.
We are starting the first phase of a “rolling” solidarity hunger strike onFriday, December 20, where someone will do a hunger strike every day in support of the hunger strikers in Syria through the rest of December.
We are also working on putting together a list of supporters for launching a larger campaign leading up to the Geneva Conference in January. We are asking that you commit to one day of a symbolic hunger strike and that you give us permission to put your name on the materials to publicize the hunger strikes more widely. We also ask, if you are able, to send in a photo of yourself or group to firstname.lastname@example.org, maybe with a sign illustrating your participation.
- To call for food and medicine now to all besieged towns in Syria.
- To call for a binding resolution from the UN Security Council requiring the regime in Syria and all armed parties to allow humanitarian organizations immediate unfettered access to aid the civilian population without discrimination, including cross-border access and cross-line access (from regime-controlled areas into rebel-controlled areas).
- To alert media and political representatives to this situation.
- To support this act of civil resistance in Syria.
Can you join us this holiday season in standing in solidarity with Syrians? People of conscience everywhere must act to break the siege that is affecting over a million people. In Solidarity and Hope,
- Keith Ellison, U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District
- Razan Ghazzawi, Syrian blogger-activist & former political prisoner
- Rev. Kristin Stoneking, Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation
- Gail Daneker, Friends for a Nonviolent World, Director of Peace Education Advocacy
- Huwaida Arraf, Palestinian American co-founder of International Solidarity Movement
- Medea Benjamin, Code Pink
- Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Syrian writer & former political prisoner
- Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian feminist writer
- Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Co-Founder of Shomer Shalom Network of Jewish Nonviolence
- Jawdat Said, Syrian nonviolence teacher for over fifty years
- Marilyn Hacker, American Poet
- Mina Hamilton, American Writer
- Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, Lecturer, University for the Creative Arts
- Michael Nagler, Metta Center for Nonviolence
- Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics and International Studies, University of San Francisco
- Suad Mohamed, University of Virginia
- Danny Postel, University of Denver
- Bob Nechal, Friends for a Nonviolent World
- Nader Hashemi, University of Denver
- Raed Fares, Media Office Director for the Town of Kafr Nbel, Syria
- Afra Jalabi, Syrian Nonviolence Movement
- Mohja Kahf, Syrian American poet & academic
- Linda Thomson, Minnesota Peace Project
- Ian Keith, St Paul Elementary School Teacher
- Wael Khouli, Physician and Human Rights Activist
- Mazen Halabi, Community Activist
- Cathy Murphy, Peace Activist
- Andy Berman, Veterans for Peace
- Terry Burke, Friends for a Nonviolent World
- Nicole Halabi, School Administrator
- Wendy Tuck, Educator
(organizations listed for identification only)
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