Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Syrian and Russian air forces of dropping incendiary weapons on civilians in rebel-controlled areas. Russian aircraft have begun bombing runs from an air base in Iran.
The New York-based human rights group said Tuesday it had documented the use of white phosphorous and incendiary weapons dropped on Syria at least 18 times in the past six weeks.
"The disgraceful incendiary weapon attacks in Syria show an abject failure to adhere to international law restricting incendiary weapons," HRW's arms director Steve Goose said in the report.
The devices are designed to start fires which can indiscriminately burn everything and everyone in their path. The group said it had documented the use of incendiary weapons since early June, including two cases on August 7 that hit opposition-controlled parts of the cities of Aleppo and Idlib.
"I could clearly see the flames bursting," Idlib resident Mohammad Taj Al-Din Othman, who supplied HRW with photos of the attack, told researchers in the report. "Within 10 minutes, there were more strikes. The fire was unbelievable, it turned night into day."
Campaign to ban incendiary weapons
Human Rights Watch said it would push for a global ban on incendiary weapons this month when the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) meets this month in Geneva.
"The resulting civilian harm demonstrates the inadequacy of existing law on incendiary weapons, which should be strengthened urgently," Goose said. "From a humanitarian standpoint, a global ban on incendiary weapons would provide the best solution."
Fighting in Aleppo has intensified since early last month when government forces captured the last supply route to the rebel-held eastern sector of the city where as many as 300,000 people live in rebel-controlled districts.
Moscow: Russia bases bombers in Iran
Adding a new dimension to the conflict, Russia said Tuesday that it had deployed supersonic Tupolev-22M and Su-34 warplanes from an air base in Iran. It was the first time Moscow had admitted to basing its military in another Middle Eastern country other than Syria.
The Russian Defense Ministry released footage it said was long-range bombers operating from the air base near the Iranian city of Hamdan on a mission to strike targets in Syria.
This comes as Moscow and Washington say they are moving closer to an agreement to relieve the siege on Aleppo, which before the war was Syria's largest city.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in remarks broadcast Monday by Rossiya 24 that both sides were moving toward an arrangement.
"I'm talking exclusively about Aleppo, that would allow us to find common ground and start fighting together for bringing peace to that territory, that long-suffering land so that people could return to their homes," Shoigu said.
The US State Department confirmed talks were continuing but had no further comment.
Russia has criticized the US for failing to crack down on Syrian opposition groups that coordinate with the Nusra Front, which is allied to al Qaeda. The US in turn accuses Moscow of indiscriminately targeting rebels and civilians alike in its campaign to support the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.
jar/se (Reuters, dpa, AP)