Rights Group Says Russia May Have ‘Directly Attacked Civilians’ in Syria

A new human rights report said at least 200 civilians have been killed by Russian airstrikes in Syria over a two-month period, and it suggested Moscow had in some cases specifically targeted noncombatants.

The report, issued Wednesday by Amnesty International after a review of 25 attacks in Syria from September to November, also said the group found evidence that Russia had used cluster munitions, which could be a violation of international law.

“In some attacks, the Russian armed forces appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military objective and even medical facilities,” the report said.

A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry called the Amnesty report “totally deceitful.”

“It is all assumptions and no evidence,” the ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said in remarks reported by the Interfax news agency.

Russia began airstrikes in coordination with Syrian government forces on Sept. 30, saying it was targeting militants with the Islamic State and other terrorists — though there is still no agreement among countries participating in strikes in Syria, including Russia and the United States, on which groups should carry that designation. The United States has said most Russian airstrikes have hit groups other than the Islamic State.

The report highlighted six airstrikes in northwestern Syria in October and November, conducting telephone and Internet interviews with witnesses, human rights and medical groups, and analyzing video and photos from the ground. Five of the attacks reviewed hit residential areas and one struck “in the immediate vicinity” of a hospital, according to the report. The attacks took place in the areas of Homs, Idlib and Aleppo.

To develop the list of suspected Russian airstrikes, the authors of the Amnesty report cross-referenced information from interviews and video footage from Syria with statements from the Russian government about targets it said it had struck. The Syrian government and coalition forces led by the United States are also conducting airstrikes in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain that tracks the conflict through contacts in Syria, says 260 civilians have been killed in coalition strikes. The White House has said that coalition forces are trying to avoid harming civilians while conducting strikes against militants.

A Human Rights Watch report released this week also found evidence that the use of cluster munitions in Syria had increased since the start of the Russian air campaign. Neither Russia nor the United States are signatories to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

General Konashenkov, the Defense Ministry spokesman, said Amnesty International could not know whether or not there were military targets in a given area in Syria because its staff members were not present there. Few international groups operate in Syria for fear their staff members could be injured, killed or kidnapped.

“They could not know it, nor could they verify it,” he said, according to Interfax. “What is known is that jihadists operate in Syria as highly mobile forces which use the infamous Toyota pickup trucks with mounted large-caliber weapons.”

Toyota pickup trucks feature prominently in several Islamic State propaganda videos from Iraq, Syria and Libya. In October, ABC News reported that American counterterrorism officials had asked the Toyota company to look into how so many of its pickups appeared to have fallen into the hands of Islamic militants. The automaker said it was cooperating with the inquiry but could not track each vehicle after it was sold.

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