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Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Egyptian-made cluster bombs used in Syria - HRW

Egyptian-made cluster bombs used in Syria - HRW
15/01/2013 By Caroline Akoum and Abdul Sattar Hatita
http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=1&id=32567

Beirut/Cairo - Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday released a detailed report
alleging that the Syrian regime’s forces are using a new, more
indiscriminate kind of cluster bomb, further claiming that the bombs are
Egyptian-made. While the Egyptian President is yet to respond to the report,
an Egyptian military expert told Asharq Al-Awsat that Egypt does not
manufacture cluster bombs. However, an HRW official stressed that “the
information we have proves the authenticity of the report”.

In response to Asharq Al-Awsat’s questions, a source in the Egyptian
presidential institution said that the report dealt with a military subject
that he was unable to comment upon. He added: “any comment on this subject
should come from a military official in the armed forces”. He went on to say
that the president’s response would not be immediate, and that the details
of the report need to be examined.

While no Egyptian army spokesperson was available for comment, Major General
Sameh Seif el-Yazal, a military expert, said that what was revealed in the
HRW report was “illogical” and contrary to Egypt’s stance, siding with the
Syrian rebels. Asked whether Egypt had perhaps supplied the cluster bombs to
the Syrian regime at an earlier period, Seif el-Yazal said that Egypt “as
far as I am certain, does not manufacture cluster bombs or any other
internationally-banned explosive. Egypt only makes conventional munitions in
Arab Organization for Industrialization (AOI) factories”.

Seif el-Yazal went on to say that Egypt and the Egyptian armed forces “are
not providing the Syrian army or the revolutionaries with any weapons or
ammunition, whether directly or indirectly, not even through a third party.
This is for certain”.

Seif el-Yazal called into question the credibility of HRW’s information,
adding that “another thing is that Egypt’s current relationship with, and
support for, the Syrian rebels confirms that it cannot support the Syrian
regime in any way”. He added that the current regime in Egypt has declared
its full support for the Syrian rebels on several occasions, and “it would
be irrational and inconceivable for the Egyptian state to support the rebels
and then send munitions to the Syrian regime, which is in a state of
collapse”.

However, Nadim Houry, director of HRW’s Beirut office, confirmed to Asharq
Al-Awsat that the organization has information to prove what was revealed in
the report, saying: “we obtained what we published from several sources. The
report also includes photographs, taken by an international journalist,
depicting these Egyptian-made bombs, but we cannot ascertain the year Syria
obtained them”. Houry pointed out that “Egypt is one of the countries that
manufacture cluster bombs, and HRW has already asked them to stop producing
this kind of internationally prohibited weapon”.

Stephen Goose, director of HRW’s Arms Division, said that “Syria is
escalating and expanding its use of cluster munitions, despite international
condemnation of its embrace of this banned weapon. It is now resorting to a
notoriously indiscriminate type of cluster munition that gravely threatens
civilian populations”.

In turn, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) officer told Asharq Al-Awsat that Syria
had obtained the bombs from Iran and Russia during the 1990s, while at the
same time verifying that the regime is using surface-to-surface missiles
marked with the stamp of the “Egyptian National Organization for Military
Production”. He added that “the information we have confirms that the Syrian
regime used cluster bombs for the first time in November, specifically in
the areas of Rastan and Jabal al-Zawiya in Idlib province. In recent times
they have become more widely used, for example they were reported in Daraa
and Rastan yesterday”. The officer explained that “the regime initially
sought to use these bombs in areas that were difficult for its artillery to
reach. As for today, there are fewer obstacles preventing them from being
used, although they often need to be dropped from Sukhoi or MiG 21 aircraft,
the former which can drop 7 or 8 bombs, the latter of which can drop two.
Each bomb consists of around 900 smaller explosive fragments, with one
fragment alone capable of killing two people”.

The officer believes that the regime has possessed a large arsenal of such
munitions for decades, and that some of them are now obsolete. He pointed
out that al-Assad possesses enough to “wipe out Syria” and does not need to
get hold of any more, adding that the regime these days is relying on
low-cost weaponry as much as possible, and therefore has resorted to using
barrels of “TNT”, cluster bombs and what are known as thermobaric
explosives.

Furthermore, the officer indicated that “the regime also used chemical
weapons in small quantities in the region of Rastan at the end of 2011,
through the sewage system. This led to cases of suffocation among citizens”.
In a similar vein, the officer confirmed the deaths of 6 FSA elements 15
days ago as a result of a chemical weapon attack in Duma, after they had
succeeded in capturing the headquarters of the al-Ishara battalion.
According to the officer, the FSA elements had entered the headquarters to
examine the interior and subsequently suffered convulsions and severe
breathing problems. They died within a few hours, and these are the symptoms
of a chemical attack.

In its recent report, HRW states: “Evidence indicates that Syrian forces
used BM-21 Grad multi-barrel rocket launchers to deliver cluster munitions
in attacks near the city of Idlib in December 2012 and in Latamneh, a town
northwest of Hama, on January 3, 2013”. These rocket launchers are mounted
onto a truck and are capable of firing 40 shells nearly simultaneously, at a
distance of up to 40 kilometers.

The report goes on to say that “On December 12, an international journalist
visited an uninhabited forested area outside the village of Banin in Jabal
al-Zaweya, where she photographed cluster munition remnants and the remnants
of ground-launched rockets used in an attack on December 5”. HRW also
reports that “a fighter for the armed opposition group the Free Syrian Army
was killed on December 5 after handling an unexploded submunition”.

HRW’s report is based on interviews with witnesses, videos posted online and
photographs taken by an international journalist. The organization yesterday
reiterated its call for the regime’s troops to “immediately cease all use of
cluster munitions, which have been comprehensively banned by 111 nations
through an international treaty”.

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