This short film on Al Jazeera called ‘Syria: Under Russia’s Fist’, by filmmakers and journalists Nagieb Khaja and Tom Greenwood, highlights the devastating consequences Russian air strikes have had on the lives of ordinary Syrian civilians. It is a raw and gripping film that should be watched by anyone concerned about the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
The situation in Syria – prior to the recent ceasefire – is investigated from a civilian centred approach and Khaja uses personal testimonies, which he later verifies with monitoring groups in Syria. These demonstrate that Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict has increased the rate of civilian deaths; causing attacks to intensify and prospects of peace to diminish.
The report claims that, in the last 5 months, Russian bombs have killed at least 1,500 civilians – with more than 300 of these being children.
Russian forces’s involvement in Syria began on 30 September, 2015 in support of their ally, Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. Though air strikes are continually stated by Russian military officials as only targeting terrorist groups such as ISIS and the al-Nusra Front, it is clear that many bombs fall on civilian areas, causing numerous non-combatant deaths and casualties.
Recording the rate of civilian deaths and casualties is very difficult in Syria due to underreporting caused by the difficulties and dangers presented to those trying to record such data. This means that the figures reported may only be a picture of the larger trends.
AOAV’s own data – which might only be a snapshot of what is really happening – found that in a 5 month period up to 31 January 2015, of the 76 air-launched incidents in Syria, 30 of these were recorded as being launched by Russia and accounted for 617 civilian deaths and injuries. It is therefore easy to see the devastation such incidents can cause to civilians.
These bombs are dropped – as the film shows – on schools, aid stations, internet cafes, homes, and even on rubble from which survivors and the dead are being recovered. AOAV’s own data shows that of the 31 airstrikes that were reported as taking place in populated areas, 95% of the casualties were civilian – confirming the increasingly high civilian toll these airstrikes have when committed in populated areas.
From following the Syrian Civil Defence Force rescue workers – otherwise known as ‘the white helmets’ – and talking to victims of the air strikes, Khaja is able to show not only the civilian spaces targeted but also the frequency of the attacks and the use of barrel bombs by what are said to be Russian forces. Khaja repeats that though it is impossible to know precisely if these are Russian planes, he confirms that those he saw did appear to have the Russian markings.
Khaja criticises such targeting of civilian areas by Russian and Syrian forces and the slow international response which allows the continuation of the Syrian people’s suffering.
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