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AOAV condemns “barrel bomb” barrage in Aleppo

An ongoing aerial onslaught in the northern city of Aleppo has killed as many as 126 people over the weekend. At least 36 people were killed yesterday alone in air strikes across populated areas, say the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Most of the fatalities were civilians. Yesterday’s toll included 17 children.

The bombing raids are said to have been carried out using so-called ‘barrel bombs’. These are improvised air-dropped bombs that contain fuel, explosives, and scraps of jagged steel.

Action on Armed Violence recorded 428 civilian casualties from a similar series of ‘barrel-bomb’ airstrikes in Aleppo during a month-long campaign in December 2013.

Action on Armed Violence first recorded the use of these weapons by Syrian government forces in September 2012. Similar makeshift devices have been used in the past in Sudan’s Blue Nile province. In the case of Syria it is not always clear whether the bombs being dropped are improvised or not, as the term is used to describe a wide array of devastating aerial bombs.

Regardless of the means of manufacture, the bombs being used in Aleppo’s residential neighbourhoods cause massive amounts of damage on impact.

“Obviously these barrel bombs cannot be guided,” says AOAV researcher Robert Perkins. “They seem to be just shoved blindly out of helicopters with no care for the civilians below. Barrel bombs can be as big as they can make them. In both those regards they’re meant to mimic and match the wide-area impact of the Syrian government’s arsenal of manufactured bombs, nearly all of which are also completely unguided, and which have massive blast effects.”

Action on Armed Violence records casualties from explosive violence around the world, as reported in English-language news sources. Of the casualties recorded by AOAV in the first two years of the war (March 2011-March 2013);

–        There was an average of 15 civilian deaths in every incident where an air-dropped bomb was used.

–        90% of all the people who have been reported as either killed or injured by explosive weapons in Syria were civilians.

–        Four out of every five incidents of explosive violence was reported in a populated area.

–        An average of 24 civilians were killed or injured in every incident that took place in a populated area. This is compared to just 5 in areas that could not be recorded as populated.

Explosive weapons affect an area with blast and fragmentation effects.  They include artillery, rockets, and ballistic missiles, as well as improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The use of explosive weapons in populated areas by all sides has been one of the major drivers of civilian suffering in Syria. AOAV’s analysis of one Syrian casualty-recording organization showed that as of December 2013, explosive weapons have been responsible for half of all the civilian deaths in Syria since fighting began.

“Barrel bombs can cause terrific damage”, says AOAV’s CEO Steven Smith. “Syrian government forces are supplementing their arsenal with devices that they can’t control once they’re dropped. If these bombs are used indiscriminately in a populated area the result is going to be catastrophic for whoever’s in their path. This latest horrible news from Aleppo shows that.”