Civilian deaths from Russian airstrikes 'highest since Aleppo's fall'

Civilian deaths from Russian airstrikes 'highest since Aleppo's fall'
The death toll from Russia's fierce bombardment of Syria has shot up over the past two months, coinciding with regime ground offensives, and despite a ceasefire officially being in place.
3 min read
27 April, 2017

Civilian deaths in Syria from Russian air strikes are at their highest since the fall of rebel-held Aleppo to regime forces in December according to one monitoring group. 

According to the UK-based Airwars - which specialises in monitoring and assessing civilian casualties from international air strikes in Syria, Iraq, and Libya - heightened civilian death tolls have come in the context of ongoing ground assaults - led by the Assad regime - against rebel forces in Aleppo, Hama, and Idlib, which Moscow has backed with aerial campaigns. 

Research conducted by Airwars suggests that for the first three months of 2017 the US-lead coalition targeting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq was responsible for more civilian deaths as a result of air strikes than Russia as it ramped up attacks around IS in Mosul and Raqqa.

However, the monitoring group, said that a coincidental lull in Russian airstrikes, has since ended with increases in civilian deaths reported in March, and April, up from February.  

In February a total of 60 alleged "Russian civilian casualty incidents" were reported in Syria, this rose to 114, in March, and currently stands at at least 120 for April, although Air Wars says that not all incidents have, to date, been verified, and authenticated. 

The monitoring group points to an increase in air strikes following the collapse of Russia-Turkey brokered peace talks in Astana in mid-March.

Particularly high deal tolls from alleged Russian air strikes took place in Salqeen, Idlib province on 4 April - the same day an alleged regime-perpetrated sarin attack killed over 90 people in nearby Khan Sheikhoun.

Another attack which led to a high death toll took place in Orm al-Jouz, also in Idlib, four days later. 

"These latest alleged Russian incidents are not isolated cases," said Airwars contributor Samuel Oakford, in a report on the monitor's website.  

"In the first three weeks of April, Airwars monitored more than 100 reported civilian casualty events tied to Russian strikes - similar to the pace seen in the first months of 2016, when Russia was accused of killing hundreds on a weekly basis. 

"Most strikes today are in Idlib governorate, though Russia is also bombing near Hama and Damascus. Approximately 60 civilians a week are presently being alleged killed in Russian actions."

Airwars further noted that an 7 April US missile attack targeting a Syrian regime air base - a response to the 4 April Sarin attack - had not curbed air strikes conducted by either the regime or its Russian backers. 

Moscow's military intervention in support of the Syrian regime began in September 2015, and Russian forces have since helped to turn the tide against the Syrian rebels and bolstered Assad's position. 

However, since becoming embroiled in the conflict Moscow has increasingly faced accusations that air strikes it has conducted in Syria are tantamount to war crimes.

This is notably the case with regard to campaigns in late 2016 targeting rebel-held areas of east Aleppo where Russian war planes are accused of targeting hospitals, water infrastructures, schools, and other non-military facilities.