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Amnesty report: Aleppo civilians targeted 'relentlessly'

Government actions suggest a policy of "collective punishment" against citizens of Aleppo, Amnesty International has said in a new report. The watchdog also slams the rebels for "war crimes" and torturing prisoners.

Air strikes by Syrian regime have forced many civilians in Aleppo to live underground, in basements or bunkers, the human rights watchdog Amnesty International said in a report published Tuesday.

"These reprehensible and continual strikes on residential areas point to a policy of deliberately and systematically targeting civilians in attacks that constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity," said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program.

"By relentlessly and deliberately targeting civilians the Syrian government appears to have adopted a callous policy of collective punishment against the civilian population of Aleppo."

In the report, Amnesty emphasized the destructive power of so-called barrel bombs, which reportedly killed over 3,000 civilians in the Aleppo province last year. The bombs are made of containers packed with explosives and metal fragments.

"I saw children without heads, body parts everywhere. It was how I imagine hell to be," a local factory worker said describing such an attack on al-Fardous neighborhood in 2014, in statement on the Amnesty website.

A local surgeon also said the level of injuries he had seen caused by barrel bombs was unprecedented:

"Barrel bombs are the most horrible and hurtful weapon…[We deal with] multi-trauma, so many amputations, intestines out of the body, it's too horrible," he said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly denied that his forces use the deadly weapon, despite the reports both by activists on the ground and rights groups.

Hospital out of order

Amnesty also slammed armed opposition groups in Aleppo for war crimes, accusing them of torturing prisoners and using improvised and imprecise weapons. Some 600 civilians were killed in a rebel attack from last year, with opposition forces using rockets fitted with gas canisters, called "hell canons," Amnesty said.

Only a day before the report was published, Doctors Without Borders said that a major Aleppo hospital had been forced to suspend its activities after recent attacks.

The hospital, located in a rebel-held area, served some 400,000 people, the group said.

Doctors Without Border also called all sides "to respect civilians, health facilities and medical staff."

International 'indifference'

Amnesty also called on all sides to allow humanitarian access, and criticized the international community for not punishing abuses, calling it a "cold-hearted display of indifference."

"Continued inaction is being interpreted by perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity as a sign they can continue to hold the civilians of Aleppo hostage without fear of any retribution," said Luther.

dj/kms (AFP, AP)

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