'200 Syrian civilians killed in Russian air strikes'
Published 24/12/2015 | 02:30
Shortly after 8.30 on a Sunday morning, Russian jets took off from an airbase near Syria's Mediterranean coast. Less than 30 minutes later, they fired three missiles into a crowded market, killing 49 people.
The incident is detailed in a report by Amnesty International that lays bare the scale of the suffering caused by Russia's campaign on behalf of Bashar al-Assad's regime. The human rights group has documented the deaths of 200 civilians in 25 Russian air strikes in the space of two months.
Warplanes have dropped illegal cluster bombs while mosques, hospitals and schools have all fallen victim to their attacks. Amnesty suggested that Russia "may have lied to cover up civilian damage to a mosque from one air strike and a field hospital in another".
One of the bloodiest incidents took place on November 29, when the market in the rebel-held town of Ariha was targeted.
"First there was a loud explosion - dirt flying in the air - followed immediately by shock," remembered Mohammed Qurabi al-Ghazal. "In just a few moments, people were screaming, the smell of burning was in the air and there was just chaos."
Mr Ghazal told Amnesty that corpses lay "everywhere, decapitated and mutilated," adding: "Forty bodies were lined up, and next to the bodies was a woman sitting and crying.
"I asked her 'what is wrong?' and she said 'my husband and three children were killed.' Her children were literally in bags."
Another witness told Amnesty that two aircraft had fired three missiles. "Two of them fell on shops. When I arrived I saw bodies everywhere and I was able with other friends to gather 30 bodies - but the number of people killed is higher. I saw the bodies of five children."
The accounts are supported by photographs and videos. Russia has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility.
"Russian air strikes appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military target," said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa director for Amnesty. "Such attacks may amount to war crimes." (© Daily Telegraph, London)