Syria Utilizes Alternatives To Chemical Weapons In Attacks On Civilians

CREDIT: Saleyha Ahsan/Human Rights Watch

An alarming new release issued by Human Rights Watch drew attention to another threat to the civilian population in Syria: incendiary bombs.

The weapons, owned and operated by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime, multiply the damage they inflict by “[opening] mid-air to release smaller bombs that…catch fire while they [are] still in the air.” On Monday, Human Rights Watch declared that 56 attacks of this sort have happened within the last year. As explained in the report, “There is no doubt that Syrian government forces are responsible for dropping the incendiary bombs. Witness accounts and video evidence show fixed-wing jet aircraft and helicopters operated by the Syrian Air Force are being used to deliver incendiary weapons.”

Incendiary bombs – commonly comprised of napalm, the catastrophic chemical utilized in Vietnam – have the power to inflict substantial harm, killing victims or resulting in serious deformation.

Despite the success of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in destroying the country’s chemical weapons – having inspected 22 out of 23 stockpiles – the Syrian military still uses a number of near equally deadly weapons. Airstrikes are particularly prevalent. In addition to incendiary bombs, the Syrian government also frequently deploys cluster munitions, which erupt mid-air and can cause up to hundreds of smaller bombs to rain down on civilians. When they do not successfully explode in the air, cluster munitions act as landmines, waiting to be walked on by passersby. Over 204 such assaults occurred between July 2012 and June 2013. Appallingly, attacks by the Syrian Air Force are strategically designed to hit sites where civilians are known to gather but do not pose military threats, including bakeries.

Much like the use of chemical weapons, the international community has recognized the extremely negative impacts of incendiary bombs and cluster munitions, and subsequently banned their use. A treaty drawn during the Oslo Process in 2007-2008, which was formalized by the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2010, rendered the use of of cluster munitions illegal according to international law. To date, neither Syria nor the United States have signed on to the agreement. Incendiary bombs are also prohibited, as determined by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons; the United States is a party to the CCCW, though Syria has refused to agree to the accord.

As of October, over 115,000 people have died and over 7 million displaced during this conflict.