Syrian rebels claim regime using civilians as 'human shields'

Syrian rebels claim regime using civilians as 'human shields'
Following criticism from human rights groups that rockets fired into West Aleppo have killed dozens of residents, Syrian rebels have issued a statement in a bid to 'minimise' civilian deaths.
2 min read
02 November, 2016
Syrian rebels insist they only aim for military targets [AFP]
Syrian rebels have accused the Syrian regime of using Aleppo residents as human shields during the opposition's latest offensive in the city.

A statement by the Free Syrian Army said that the rebels were doing all it could to minimise civilian casualties but that the regime was purposely placing heavy weaponry in residential areas to encourage civilian deaths.

"[The] Assad regime used civilians as human shields and installed artillery and rocket launchers in vital residential areas, blatantly violating the principle of distinction in international humanitarian law," the group said.

"Fatah Halab [the joint rebel command centre] has avoided bloodshed by staying away from civilian areas and distinguishing fighters from civilians."

The statement comes after a barrage of criticism from human rights groups and the UN about rebel rocket fire on West Aleppo.

Amnesty International said that rebels had launched "indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas", using mortars and Katyusha rockets in built-up areas.

Rebel groups launched a massive offensive on West Aleppo on Friday to break the regime's siege on East Aleppo.

Amnesty alleges that up 48 civilians have killed in the cross-fire during rebel assaults.

"The goal of breaking the siege on eastern Aleppo does not give armed opposition groups a licence to flout the rules of international humanitarian law by bombarding civilian neighbourhoods in government-held areas without distinction," said Samah Hadid from the human rights group.

Syrian rebels deny they have targeted residential areas, and said they have already "defined" military locations. In Tuesday's statement, they called on civilians to avoid military locations.

"We assure that the target locations of our rocket areas are all military such as airbases, military strongholds and barracks, and call upon Syrians in regime-controlled areas to stay away from regime strongholds," the statement read.

"We... assure full commitment to accountability of any fighter proved to attack innocent civilians or their properties. We also call upon all opposition and FSA fighters to commit to previous provisions related to safety and security of civilians."

Russia and the Syrian regime have been criticised for indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, including the use of cluster and barrel bombs, white phosphorus, gas, and shells.