Russian air strikes in Syria are reported to have killed dozens of civilians, a rights group has said, adding that the attacks apparently constitute war crimes.
A series of Russian air raids in the city of Homs in western Syria on Oct. 15 killed at least 59 civilians including 33 children, the Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Sunday -- citing local residents and activists. The group added that the attacks constituted “violations of the laws of war”.
The US based organization said one airstrike reportedly hit the home of an opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander, in which 46 family members were killed. Locals said the FSA commander was away from the home at the time of the attack.
"Civilian relatives of combatants are not legitimate military targets. If the local commander was the intended target, the likelihood that the attack on a civilian home with what appears to be a vacuum bomb would have killed large numbers of civilians makes it a disproportionate and unlawful attack," said the statement. "Attacks in which the expected civilian loss exceeds the anticipated military gain are serious violations of the laws of war."
Another airstrike on the same day hit near a bakery, killing at least 13 civilians as well as a FSA soldier who was a Syrian army defector, the rights group said, adding that it was not clear whether he was the intended target, as neither Russia nor the Syrian regime issued statements about the specific air strikes.
The Oct. 15 bombing were a part of a broader air campaign by Russia on an enclave in northern Homs under the control of Syrian opposition groups, to assist a ground offensive by the regime forces and its allies.
Russia has been launching airstrikes in Syria since last month and insists it is primarily targeting Daesh.
However, Western powers say civilians and moderate opposition forces that are fighting against the Bashar-Al-Assad regime are bearing the brunt of the Russian strikes.
“Civilians in northern Homs may have nowhere to hide or flee as the offensive intensifies,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“Russia should ensure that it takes all precautions to protect civilians and that civilians are able to leave the area if they want, without being hit by Russian or Syrian air strikes,” he added.
The rights group said no warnings or announcements were made to civilians prior to the Oct. 15 attacks although the laws of war require each party to the conflict to give effective advance warning of attacks that may affect the civilian population.
This was not the first time the Russian forces faced allegations of striking civilians since the start of the bombing campaign. Most recently, the Syrian-American Medical Society said Russian airstrikes hit nine hospitals in Syria this month, killing and wounding tens of staff and civilians.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Russian strikes killed at least 127 civilians including 36 children since the campaign started on Sept 30.
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