Syria: Assad Forces Attack Bakeries, Kill Civilians Waiting for Bread


Syrian government forces have dropped bombs and fired artillery at or near at least 10 bakeries in Aleppo province over the past three weeks, killing and maiming scores of civilians who were waiting for bread, Human Rights Watch reports.

**Image: Burning house in Homs after Syrian army bombing. Credit: Bo yaser | Wikimedia Commons.

The attacks are at least recklessly indiscriminate and the pattern and number of attacks suggest that government forces have been targeting civilians, Human Rights Watch said. “Both reckless indiscriminate attacks and deliberately targeting civilians are war crimes.”

One attack in the city of Aleppo on August 16, 2012, killed up to 60 people and wounded more than 70, Human Rights Watch (HRW) adds. Another attack in the city on August 21 killed at least 23 people and wounded 30.

“Day after day, Aleppo residents line up to get bread for their families, and instead get shrapnel piercing their bodies from government bombs and shells,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch who has just returned from Aleppo. “Ten bakery attacks is not random – they show no care for civilians and strongly indicate an attempt to target them.”

Witnesses

Human Rights Watch researchers visited six of the attacked bakeries and interviewed witnesses, and collected credible information about four other attacks. (read HRW full report).

“After weeks of fighting in Aleppo province between government forces and the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), acute shortages of flour have forced many bakeries to close. Long lines of civilians regularly wait outside the remaining working bakeries to buy bread.”

In all of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, with the exception of the Manbij bakery attack, government forces attacked the bakery when local residents were waiting in line.

Artillery Shells, Rockets, Bombs

“The ordnance, which included artillery shells, rockets, and bombs, hit very close to the lines, and pieces of shrapnel sprayed the people gathered, killing and seriously wounding scores of them.”

In a few cases, people waiting in line ran away before the attack when they heard the approaching fighter jets, HRW adds.

Witnesses to all of the bakery attacks told Human Rights Watch that the government gave no warnings.

No Fighting Taking Place During Attacks

“The 10 bakeries were in neighborhoods or towns where no fighting was taking place before or during the attack. In most cases, a few FSA fighters were at the bakeries to maintain order and assist with bread distribution, witnesses said, but they were usually not injured.”

In one case, a FSA facility was located roughly 150 meters from the bakery, but it was not damaged. In the five other cases investigated by Human Rights Watch, no military targets apart from the few FSA fighters maintaining order were seen in the area.

“The presence of some FSA fighters at the bakeries would not make those attacks lawful, given the substantial number of civilians who were present. The government made no apparent attempt to target the small number of fighters or to minimize damage to civilians,” Human Rights Watch said.

“In some cases, a helicopter hovered over the area prior to the attack, so the presence of civilians would have been known.”

One of the deadliest attacks was in the Qadi Askar neighborhood in Aleppo city on August 16. Around 5:45 a.m., one or two artillery shells hit the square near one of the FSA bases in the neighborhood, about 150 meters from the bakery, HRW adds. The shell caused no damage to the facility or casualties among FSA members.

People Waiting for Bread

“Fifteen minutes later, three more shells hit the area within a few minutes, successively closer to the bakery, where several hundred people were waiting for bread. The third shell hit the street a few meters from the bakery, spraying shrapnel into the line of people.”

The exact number of casualties is difficult to verify, but records viewed by Human Rights Watch at the Dar Al Shifaa hospital, which received most of the wounded and killed from the attack, list 49 identified and 11 unidentified bodies, and 76 injured people.

“I Just Covered My Head with My Hands and Ran for My Life”

In an attack on August 21, a bomb from a helicopter hit a bread line at the Aqyoul bakery in the Bab al-Hadid area of Aleppo, killing at least 23 people and wounding more than 30. “Fais,” a 44-year-old tailor who was wounded in the attack, told Human Rights Watch:

I was standing near the door of the bakery when the bomb hit – I just covered my head with my hands and ran for my life. I ran into a store next door and only there I realized that I was injured – in my side and left arm.

There was black smoke everywhere, and broken glass. The bomb hit the corner of the street, and the shrapnel flew straight into the line – everyone still there was either killed or heavily injured. I saw one guy on the ground without a leg, another without an arm, then a 16-year-old boy whom I knew, Rafat Makik Halak, without a head… One of my cousins, Ahmed, lost his arm and leg, and died afterwards. My sister, who was also injured, is still in the hospital.

The 10 bakeries were providing bread for the civilian population and were clearly civilian objects, Human Rights Watch said.

International Criminal Court, Arms Embargo, Targeted Sanctions

Human Rights Watch urged Russia and China to stop obstructing United Nations Security Council action to protect civilians in Syria.

The Security Council should refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, impose an arms embargo on the Syrian government, and adopt targeted sanctions against officials involved in abuses, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch provides further details on Syrian army documented Attacks on Bread Lines (read full report).

**Image: Burning house in Homs after Syrian army bombing. Credit: Bo yaser | Wikimedia Commons.
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Read also:

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Number of Syrian Refugees Triples in Three Months

Syria – 10.000 Killed; 100.000 Uprooted; 850.000 Affected… and the World Just Watching

One Million Syrians in Need of Humanitarian Assistance

The Arab Spring – The Empires Hit Back 

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