LONDON — Syrian air force pilots carrying out deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians at sites including bakeries and hospitals are responsible for war crimes, according to Human Rights Watch.
The New York-based group said it documented 59 unlawful air attacks by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad at sites that it had visited in northern Syria.
“Individuals who commit serious violations of the laws of war willfully — that is intentionally or recklessly — are responsible for war crimes,” Ole Solvang, a Human Rights Watch researcher, said in an 80-page report published Thursday. The raids “appear to be part of systematic and widespread attacks.”
The conflict in Syria began in March 2011 with peaceful protests and turned violent after government troops turned their guns on demonstrators. At least 70,000 people have been killed in the unrest, the United Nations estimates.
Air raids against civilians became a regular feature of the civil war in July, Human Rights Watch said. Buildings struck by aircraft included places where civilians gather in large numbers, including bakeries and hospitals, though the targets may sometimes have been nearby rebel positions, it said.
Munitions included bombs dumped from the back of helicopters and incendiaries, the group said.
Syria lacks the reconnaissance and precision munitions needed to identify and target objectives in urban areas, according to four air force officers who defected and spoke to the report’s authors.
“They believed their commanders nonetheless ordered air strikes in cities and towns, in part to instill fear in the civilian population in opposition strongholds, and also to deprive the opposition of its support,” according to the report.
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