Mousab Alhamadee / McClatchy & Al Jazeera America – 2015-05-07 01:46:16
Another Syrian Group Charges
US Airstrikes Killed Civilians
Mousab Alhamadee / McClatchy Foreign Staff
ISTANBUL (May 6, 2015) — A new report from a Syrian human rights group Wednesday accused the United States of killing dozens of civilians in airstrikes last week in northern Syria.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights said that at least 64 people, including 31 children, had been killed last Thursday when US aircraft fired at least nine missiles over 30 minutes at the village of Bir Mahalli, which is about 33 miles south of Kobani, the border town that was the scene last year of a months-long bombing campaign against the Islamic State.
Syrian opposition activists reported the civilian deaths last week, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting at least 55 deaths and activists saying the toll was much higher. McClatchy obtained a list of 10 families that were said to have lost a total of 64 members.
The US Central Command, which oversees American bombing in Syria, initially said it couldn’t confirm that Bir Mahalli had been a target last Thursday. But a spokesman acknowledged in an email earlier this week that aircraft had attacked the village, which is home to about 1,000 people.
The spokesman, Army Maj. Curtis Kellogg, denied that civilians had been killed in the assault, however.
“US Central Command can confirm that coalition forces conducted airstrikes in the vicinity of Birmehli . . . on April 30,” he said, using an alternate spelling for the village. He said the attack had destroyed several Islamic State fighting positions and struck more than 50 Islamic State fighters.
“We currently have no indication that any civilians were killed in these strikes,” he added.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights, however, reported that in addition to the 31 children killed in the strike, the US missile barrage killed 19 women and wounded more than 30. It said that an unknown number of dead were thought to still be buried under the debris of the clay country cottages that are typical of the area.
“Most of the villagers left the village after the massacre,” the report said.
Fadel Abdulghani, the head of the group, said in a statement that “the latest incident shows more carelessness when it comes to the lives of the innocents.”
The network has accused the US of killing civilians before, charging in a report in March that airstrikes had killed at least 100 civilians since the US began bombing Syria last September.
Wednesday’s report provided new details of allegations that the airstrikes on Bir Mahalli were part of a battle between Arab and Kurdish residents that’s part of the toxic ethnic brew driving the conflict in Syria.
An activist, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity for his safety, told McClatchy last week that he suspected that members of the local Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG in the Kurdish language, which had worked closely with the US during the fight for Kobani, had intentionally called in the strike to drive away Arab residents.
In his comments this week, Kellogg, the Centcom spokesman, acknowledged a Kurdish role.
“Prior to the airstrikes, Kurdish forces, who held the town before leaving after being attacked by ISIL, reported there were no civilians present in that location and that there had not been any civilians present for two weeks prior to the coalition airstrikes,” Kellogg said. ISIL is the government’s preferred acronym for the Islamic State.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights said residents of the village had told its investigators that YPG units had been monitoring the village from a nearby hill. When two fuel trucks entered the town, the network said residents had reported, the YPG opened fire with tracer rounds. When villagers gathered to aid those wounded by the YPG fire, coalition aircraft fired missiles.
A journalist from the area, who spoke by Skype to McClatchy only under the condition of anonymity for security reasons, said tensions between Kurdish and Arab populations were high.
“The Kurdish forces are pressing the Arabs in the area to leave,” the journalist said. He called the missile strikes “a systematic expulsion in an indirect way.”
Centcom spokesman Kellogg said the US took allegations of civilian casualties seriously.
“We have significant mitigation measures in place within the targeting process and during the conduct of operations to reduce the potential risks of collateral damage and civilian casualties,” he said. “We work extremely hard to be precise in the application of our airstrikes and take all allegations of civilian casualties very seriously.”
Alhamadee is a McClatchy special correspondent.
Main Aleppo Hospital Forced to
Shut Down after Attacks
Al Jazeera America
Widespread atrocities, in particular the vicious and unrelenting aerial bombardment of civilian neighborhoods by government forces, have made life for civilians in Aleppo increasingly unbearable. — Philip Luther, Amnesty International
SYRIA (May 5, 2015) — One of the main hospitals in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo has been forced to close indefinitely after being targeted by rockets and barrel bombs dropped by government helicopters, an international humanitarian group has said.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Monday that the private al-Sakhour hospital, serving around 400,000 people as one of the only hospitals in east Aleppo, halted all activities after being bombed twice on consecutive days last week.
“It is unclear when or if the hospital will be operative again” as it was severely damaged, an MSF statement said.
The hospital’s staff are Syrian, but it receives medical equipment from MSF every three months, an MSF representative told the AFP news agency.
“The next delivery was supposed to be in June, but we don’t know if it will happen,” he said.
Raquel Ayora, MSF’s director of operations, said: “We renew our appeal to the warring parties to respect civilians, health facilities and medical staff.”
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) , barrel bombs — highly destructive and indiscriminate crude weapons made of old containers packed with explosives – struck near the hospital on April 28 and 30.
The UK-based monitoring group has documented a total of more than 11,000 air raids carried out by the regime warplanes across the country since the beginning of this year.
Atrocities in Aleppo
Also, rights body Amnesty International on Tuesday accused the government forces of crimes against humanity in Aleppo. It however, said that rebels have also committed abuses in the contested northern city.
Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and commercial capital, has been a major battleground in the country’s civil war since rebels launched an assault there in mid-2012 that ultimately left the city carved into government- and opposition-held halves.
In a new report, Amnesty International sharply condemned the government’s reliance on barrel bombs against rebel-held neighbourhoods in the city.
“Widespread atrocities, in particular the vicious and unrelenting aerial bombardment of civilian neighborhoods by government forces, have made life for civilians in Aleppo increasingly unbearable,” said Amnesty’s Philip Luther.
“These reprehensible and continual strikes on residential areas point to a policy of deliberately and systematically targeting civilians in attacks that constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Amnesty said barrel bomb attacks have killed more than 3,000 civilians in Aleppo governorate last year, and more than 11,000 in the country since 2012.
Meanwhile, in the hope of reviving stalled dialogue to find a possible solution to the conflict, the UN’s peace envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, announced on Tuesday the start of wide-ranging consultations in Geneva with regional and domestic players.
De Mistura said that talks with the Syrian government and some 40 groups — including “political, military actors, women, civil society, victims, the diaspora” — would also rope in some 20 regional and international players.
Iran, which backs the government of President Bashar al-Assad, will also be involved in the talks.
The consultations would be held on a one-to-one basis between the UN and the separate players.
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