Syrian government attacks on Islamic State base may be war crimes

Amnesty International said it has documented a series of Syrian government airstrikes that killed up to 115 civilians, including 14 children

BEIRUT – A leading international rights group on Tuesday criticized Syrian government bombings last November that targeted the de-facto capital of the Islamic State group, saying the airstrikes killed dozens of civilians and may amount to war crimes.

Amnesty International said in a statement that it has documented a series of Syrian government airstrikes between Nov. 11 and Nov. 29 that killed up to 115 civilians, including 14 children, in the city of Raqqa in northern Syria. On Nov. 25, The Associated Press reported that at least 60 people were killed in airstrikes that day in Raqqa.

Raqqa has been the seat of the Islamic State group since it declared a caliphate in areas under its control in Iraq and Syria.

Amnesty said the “unlawful” killings violated international humanitarian law and that some of the attacks may amount to war crimes. The London-based watchdog said the airstrikes included attacks on a mosque and a busy market “crammed full of civilians” as well as some buildings not being used for military purposes.

“Syrian government forces have shown flagrant disregard for the rules of war in these ruthless airstrikes. Some of these attacks give every indication of being war crimes,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program.

“They have carried out repeated attacks on civilian areas without clearly identifying military targets, a blatant violation of the requirement to distinguish between civilians and military targets,” he added.

Citing Syrian authorities, who at the time said the attacks were meant to target IS members and bases, Amnesty said the evidence it gathered shows that, in most cases, no military targets could be identified in the vicinity of the areas attacked.

On Nov. 25, government forces bombed a number of civilian areas, striking a mosque, a busy market, shops, a transport hub, a storage facility and a residential building, Amnesty said.

“The residents of Raqqa already have to endure the reality of life under brutal IS rule. Punishing an entire civilian population simply because the city where they live is now under IS control can never be justified,” said Luther.