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.


Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

Nearly half of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million have been uprooted from their homes. AP
Updated 16 July 2018
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Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

  • Regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside
  • In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces unleashed hundreds of missiles on an opposition-held area near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday, activists said, the latest phase in an offensive to clear southern Syria of insurgents.
The regime’s push came after it had secured control of most of Daraa province in an offensive that began in June. On Sunday, the first batch of armed fighters and their families left the city of Daraa, the provincial capital, in buses that would take them to the opposition-held Idlib province in the north.
Similar deals in other parts of Syria resulted in the evacuation of thousands of opposition fighters and civilians — evacuations that the UN and rights groups have decried as forced displacement.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday the success in driving the opposition out of Daraa embodies the will of his army and allied forces to “liberate all of Syrian territories” of “terrorism.”
In recent months and backed by Russian air force, the Syrian regime has restored control of over 60 percent of previously opposition-held territory across the country.
Assad spoke during a meeting on Sunday with visiting Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hossein Jaberi Ansari. Assad’s office said the two agreed that the “elimination of terrorism in most of the Syrian territory has laid the most appropriate ground to reach results at the political level” that could put an end to Syria’s war.
Syria’s regime refers to all armed opposition groups as “terrorists” and accuses the West, Turkey, Israel and regional countries of supporting them.
The statement came a day before President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are to meet in Finland. Syria is expected to feature highly on the agenda. Russia is a major Assad ally.
In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control. Daraa, which lies on a highway linking Damascus with Jordan, was the cradle of the 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Since early Sunday, regime forces turned their missiles toward a stretch of land controlled by the armed opposition in northern Daraa and the countryside of adjacent Quneitra.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside, about 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles, from the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The Observatory said government forces advanced on Massharah, a village in Quneitra, and rebels fought back in intense clashes that killed several pro-government fighters. The pro-Syrian regime Central Military Media said a number of insurgents were killed in the clashes.
The Observatory reported airstrikes in Massharah, the first in over a year to hit the Quneitra countryside. It also reported airstrikes in a nearby village in northern Daraa, where regime forces have been trying to retake a key hill there after failing to reach a deal with the fighters. Capturing the hill would enable them to advance on militants in the area linked to Daesh.
Daraa activist Abou Mahmoud Hourani said an estimated 400 members of the armed opposition and their families will be evacuated out of Daraa.
Pro-regime TV Al-Ikhbariya said 10 buses carrying 407 people left for northern Syria.
The station said the evacuation of nearly 1,000 people was likely to be completed by Sunday.