Syrian government accused of using banned Soviet cluster munitions

Philip Luther

Syrian government forces have been using banned Soviet-era cluster munitions to carry out indiscriminate attacks on civilians amid a tightening siege in opposition-held Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, bringing the enclave’s humanitarian crisis to breaking point, Amnesty International reported today.

At least 10 civilians have been killed in recent cluster munition attacks. A truce was announced in Eastern Ghouta earlier this week, though there have been recent reports of continued shelling from Syrian government forces.

Photographs shared by activists in Eastern Ghouta, which have been verified by an Amnesty arms expert, show remnants of cluster munitions from attacks that have taken place in the past ten days, including one on 19 November.

The photos show Soviet-made ground-launched 240mm 3O8 cluster munitions projectiles containing up to ten sub-munitions.

According to Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, these first appeared in Syria after Russia began missile strikes against anti-government groups in September 2015. Such weapons are banned by more than 100 countries due to the danger presented to civilians by their indiscriminate nature.

Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East research and advocacy director (pictured), said: “The Syrian government has shown callous disregard for the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people living in Eastern Ghouta since it laid siege to the area in late 2012.

“But this recent escalation in attacks - clearly targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure using internationally-banned cluster munitions - is horrific.

“The Syrian government is committing war crimes on an epic scale in Eastern Ghouta.

“Amid a worsening malnutrition epidemic, Syrian forces must immediately end the unlawful siege of Eastern Ghouta and allow unimpeded access to humanitarian organisations before an already catastrophic situation claims yet more civilian lives.

“There are around 400,000 civilians struggling to survive under daily, often hourly, bombardment, without access to food and medical care.

“Russia, as a party to this conflict has a particular responsibility to ensure that its ally, the Syrian government, ends this unlawful siege and stops committing war crimes.”