HRW: US failed to protect civilians in Syria mosque

Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons as they walk in the northern province of Quneitra, Syria on Tuesday. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 April 2017
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HRW: US failed to protect civilians in Syria mosque

BEIRUT: The US military failed to take “necessary precautions” to prevent civilians deaths in a strike on a Syrian mosque last month that killed dozens of people, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
The March 16 strike in the village of opposition-held Al-Jineh in northern Aleppo province killed 49 people, mostly civilians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“United States forces appear to have failed to take necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties,” in the strike, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report.
The Pentagon said the strike targeted a meeting of senior Al-Qaeda leaders and denied a mosque had been hit in the attack.
But it launched a casualty “credibility assessment” after reviewing public and classified information.
HRW said it had interviewed 14 people with firsthand knowledge of the strike, and worked with organizations to analyze imagery of the attack and reconstruct the assault.
“The US seems to have gotten several things fundamentally wrong in this attack, and dozens of civilians paid the price,” said Ole Solvang, HRW’s deputy emergencies director.
“The US authorities need to figure out what went wrong, start doing their homework before they launch attacks, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Part of the dispute over the attack centered around whether the building hit was a mosque or not.
HRW said the building did not have some traditional features of a mosque, including a domed roof and a minaret.
But it said aerial surveillance would have shown people regularly gathering for daily prayers, including in the moments before the attack.
“Any attempt to verify through people with local knowledge what kind of building this was would likely have established that the building was a mosque,” the group said.
HRW said it had found no evidence that militants were inside the mosque, but that even if they had been “striking a mosque just before prayer and then attack people attempting to flee, without knowing whether they were civilians or combatants, may well have been disproportionate or indiscriminate.”
“Indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks violate the laws of war, as does failing to take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian deaths,” it added.
HRW said it had submitted its findings to US Central Command and been told a “comprehensive investigation reached the preliminary conclusion that the strike was lawful.”
Washington leads a coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes against the Daesh group in Syria since 2014, as well as occasionally targeting other terrorists.
Last month, the coalition said its campaign against Daesh in Syria and Iraq had unintentionally killed at least 220 civilians, but monitors say the real number is far higher.


US wants to see a Yemen that is unified, stable and prosperous: ambassador

Updated 24 min 10 sec ago
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US wants to see a Yemen that is unified, stable and prosperous: ambassador

  • “We are making every effort to end the conflict in Yemen,” Tueller told a press conference in Aden
  • The ceasefire deal laid out the de-escalation of conflict in Hodeidah as an important first step for sustainable peace in Yemen

DUBAI: US Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller on Tuesday said Washington was concerned about the situation in Yemen even as he reiterated the US’s continued support of the Yemeni government.
“We are making every effort to end the conflict in Yemen,” Tueller told a press conference in Aden, emphasizing Washington’s interest on Yemen’s unity and stability.
Tueller also expressed frustration by the delays and stalling by the Iran-backed Houthis in implementing the ceasefire agreement signed in Stockholm in December.
The ceasefire deal laid out the de-escalation of conflict in Hodeidah as an important first step for sustainable peace in Yemen.
“Some Yemeni groups are threatening neighboring countries with heavy weapons,” the American ambassador said, and he called for the adherence to international resolutions by banning the supply of weapons into the country.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on a regional tour to push for a greater role for the Middle East Strategic Alliance, a US-sponsored Arab NATO-style bloc aimed at uniting Washington’s Arab allies against Tehran.