ISR comment: Four years later, NGOs and western media start to report on the crimes committed by opposition groups in Syria. As early as 2012, ISR reported on war crimes and crimes against humanity--self-documented crimes-- committed by the so-called Free Syrian Army groups, which were--and many of them still are--sponsored and protected by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey and their Western allies.
Armed groups surrounding the Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo city have repeatedly carried out indiscriminate attacks that have struck civilian homes, streets, markets and mosques, killing and injuring civilians and displaying a shameful disregard for human life, said Amnesty International.
The organization has gathered strong evidence of serious violations from eyewitnesses, and obtained the names of at least 83 civilians, including 30 children, who were killed by attacks in Sheikh Maqsoud between February and April 2016. More than 700 civilians were also injured, according to the local field hospital. Video evidence seen by Amnesty International shows artillery shelling, rocket and mortar attacks carried out by the Fatah Halab (Aleppo Conquest) coalition of armed groups in the area, targeting the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) controlling the area.
“The relentless pummelling of Sheikh Maqsoud has devastated the lives of civilians in the area. A wide array of armed groups from the Fatah Halab coalition has launched what appear to be repeated indiscriminate attacks that may amount to war crimes,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, interim Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
There are around 30,000 civilians living in Sheikh Maqsoud which is a predominately Kurdish part of Aleppo city. The area is controlled by YPG forces and surrounded from the northern, eastern and western fronts by opposition armed groups who have targeted it from all three sides. Syrian government forces control areas south of Sheikh Maqsoud. In 2014, YPG forces started fighting against the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS). In recent months however tensions have increased with opposition armed groups, particularly in the Aleppo area. Attacks by armed groups have killed at least 62 YPG fighters, according to the Families of the Martyrs Association.
In recent days the very fragile cessation of hostilities across Syria agreed to in Geneva in February was extended to areas around Sheikh Maqsoud in the Aleppo Countryside governorate. However, attacks on Sheikh Maqsoud have continued unabated over the past few months.
Mounting evidence of indiscriminate attacks
Satellite imagery, obtained by Amnesty International and corroborated by testimony from residents, shows destroyed and badly damaged houses in a residential street in the western part of Sheikh Maqsoud, more than 800 metres away from the frontline.
Mohamad lost seven members of his family when his home in Sheikh Maqsoud was struck by an improvised ‘Hamim’ rocket launched by an armed group on 5 April 2016. Those killed included his 18-month-old daughter, his two sons, aged 15 and 10, and an eight-year-old nephew. He and two of his other young nephews sustained shrapnel wounds and were critically injured. His home is 800 metres away from the frontline.
“There are no [military] checkpoints near my house. It is a residential street and there are even people displaced by fighting or who fled airstrikes in Aleppo city living on the same street,” he told Amnesty International.
Two days earlier Mohamad’s neighbour’s house was hit by a mortar which killed two children.
Another resident of Sheikh Maqsoud told Amnesty International that the shelling intensified in February and that people spent days in their homes unable to leave. She described how her home was attacked in April by what she believed was a weapon fitted with a gas canister.
“All I remember was the walls collapsing and hearing an explosion. We got injured – I had shrapnel in my hands and legs […] We live […] very far away from the frontline. There are no checkpoints close by or any other military points,” she said.
Saad, a local pharmacist living in Sheikh Maqsoud, described 5 April 2016 as “the bloodiest day the neighbourhood had witnessed”. Shelling from armed groups continued for nine hours straight, he said.