Civilians pay heavy price in Syria’s war
Beirut - Civilians are paying a heavy price in Syria’s civil war. At least seven people, including four schoolchildren, died when what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar Assad on a school and a residential building in the northern city of Aleppo on May 3rd.
School enrolment in Aleppo, devastated by three years of war, had already fallen to a mere 6%.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that, as of mid-April, one-third of those who have died in four years of the Syrian war were civilians — that is more than 73,000 innocent lives lost from the total death toll of some 220,000.
The observatory, run by opposition activists, puts the number of children slain at 11,021, along with 7,049 women.
The Syrian conflict has morphed into a series of mini-wars inside an increasingly sectarian struggle for power with constantly changing front lines. In this war, as in the bloodbath in neighbouring Iraq, it is the civilians who are paying the price in ever-increasing numbers.
Apart from the death tolls, UN says one-third of Syria’s population of 23 million is internally displaced. The number of refugees who have fled, often to a miserable life of squalor in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, is put at more than 3 million.
Both sides fight dirty but the command of the skies by the Assad regime gives it an added capability to inflict brutality as it battles for survival. Assad’s forces are widely believed to have used chemical weapons against citizens in rebel territory and developed the use of helicopter-borne barrel bombs — canisters packed with high explosives and laced with nails and metal shards with the sole function of inflicting as many casualties as possible.
The use of barrel bombs has been strongly criticised by Amnesty International.
“By relentlessly and deliberately targeting civilians, the Syrian government appears to have adopted a callous policy of collective punishment against the civilian population of Aleppo,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme director at Amnesty International.
Air strikes by the US-led coalition in Syria also reportedly killed 52 civilians in the village of Bir Mahali on the banks of the River Euphrates on April 30th and May 1st.
The Syrian Observatory says the casualties from the air strikes on the Euphrates constitute the highest civilian losses from an attack by US and allied Arab forces since they launched their air campaign against ISIS on September 23, 2014.
The American military says its air campaign in Syria has killed some 2,000 ISIS fighters. Maybe so. But they had to concede on many occasions in other war zones that their attacks struck many innocent civilians.
Members of six families were killed at Bir Mahali. There are certain to be more.