Calls to avoid civilian casualties
A new report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) found that airstrikes conducted by the US-backed coalition have killed at least 2,286 civilians, including 674 women and 504 children. Many of the sorties are being carried out by US pilots.
The report, called “The Bloody Price,” was released on the third anniversary of the launch of the international coalition’s military campaign against the Islamic State in Syria.
“While the Syrian people unequivocally want to see ISIS defeated, they cannot be the victims of war crimes in the process,” SNHR Chairman Fadel Abdul Ghany told The Media Line. “Fighting terrorism is not an excuse to indiscriminately kill the civilians you purport to protect.”
In addition to the civilian casualties, the report showed that the coalition is also responsible for at least 157 strikes on civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, bakeries, and schools.
“It is unacceptable for Syrians who endured the rule of ISIS to be killed in the name of their own liberation. Any fight against terrorism which does not protect civilians or address the root causes of the Syrian crisis— namely, Assad’s brutal and illegitimate reign—will be protracted and futile,” Abdul Ghany affirmed.
“We are calling on the international coalition to adequately report on its activities, renew its commitment to international law, and continue to seek a holistic, political solution to the conflict that reflects the views and needs of the Syrian people.”
Another recent report by Human Rights Watch found that US aircraft bombed a school and a marketplace in strikes that killed dozens of civilians in March in the northern Syrian city of Tabqa. In one case, an airstrike apparently targeted several ISIS fighters near a bakery but killed dozens of civilians as well.
“We haven’t received a lot of detail from the military about these cases,” Ole Solvang of Human Rights Watch told The Media Line, “but we think it is very important that they launch a full investigation into what happened as it appears that large numbers of civilians have been killed.”
The reports come as the coalition gears up for a final assault to liberate Raqqa, the capital of ISIS’ so-called caliphate. Many in the region are also considering what will happen in Syria once the fighting ends, after six-plus years of war.
The Syrian people has paid a heavy price, with an estimated 400,000 killed. Five million Syrians have been forced to flee to as refugees to neighboring countries, especially Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. An additional 6.2 million Syrians are “internally displaced” meaning they have been forced to leave their homes by the fighting.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Hizbullah, is has regained ground in Syria. What once seemed unthinkable—that Assad would remain in power even after the end of the conflict—is now becoming more likely.
“It’s looking more and more like the US and Russia have decided to keep Assad in power,” Renad Mansour, a Syria expert at Chatham House, a think tank in London, told The Media Line. “Many Syrians are asking themselves what was the point of six years of fighting and so many dead.”
The idea of Assad remaining in power even if he controls only part of the country is a victory for his allies Russia, Hizbullah, and Iran, while countries such as Israel and Jordan remain very nervous.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Jerusalem will not allow Iran to gain a military foothold anywhere near the shared border. Israel acquired parts of the Golan Heights during the 1967 war and later annexed them, and Israeli officials say the area, strategically located overlooking the Sea of Galilee, is an important component of the country’s security.
“We are not going to give up the great advantages of a very quiet border along the Golan Heights,” Brigadier General (Res.) Nitzan Nuriel told The Media Line. “We don’t want that border open to terror events or instability. The Israelis living there deserve quiet and we won’t let anyone—Islamic State, Syrian forces, Jabha al-Nusra, Hizbullah or Iran to launch an attack on us whether purposely or by accident.”
Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently reinforced the desire to keep the border quiet. “Let me be clear once again: We have no intention of initiating a military operation, neither in the north nor in the south,” he asserted.
But he also said that Israel will not tolerate any provocations.
“Anyone that wants to turn Syria into an Iranian base against Israel should think again.… We won’t hold back if necessary and when needed we will respond with all our might,” Liberman said.