“The recent accusation leveled by Amnesty International against the US-led coalition for its reckless attitude towards civilian lives in its operations since the second half of 2014 is right, but this report mentions wrong figures for the relevant death toll,” Mohammad Khalaf Qandil said on Wednesday.
He reiterated that the number of the civilian casualties of the US-led airstrikes in the last two years is by no means any less than 5,000.
The senior politician also slammed the Amnesty International for its long delay in releasing the report, saying that the report has just been released while the US has been committing crimes in Syria and killing large groups of civilians so freely and without any international backlash for several years now.
“These air raids have surely inflicted heavy losses on the Syrian army which is fighting the terrorists in Syria,” Qandil lamented.
Qandil’s remarks came after the Amnesty International reported that the US airstrikes in Syria have claimed the lives of 300 to 1,000 civilians.
The AI report said 300 civilians have been killed only in 11 US-led coalition air assaults which Amnesty International investigated for its latest report. Amnesty says the US must come clean about the civilian toll of its fight against the ISIL.
Amnesty suspects that US Central Command (CENTCOM), which directs coalition airstrikes in Syria, “may have… carried out unlawful attacks” in Syria, failing to take necessary measures to prevent civilian killings.
“We fear the US-led coalition is significantly underestimating the harm caused to civilians in its operations in Syria,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s Beirut regional office.
“It’s high time the US authorities came clean about the full extent of the civilian damage caused by coalition attacks in Syria. Independent and impartial investigations must be carried out into any potential violations of international humanitarian law and the findings should be made public.”
Amnesty investigated evidence, including eyewitness accounts, reports by human rights organizations and the media, photographs and video footage as well as satellite imagery, related to 11 suspected coalition attacks in Syria. The group estimates that the attacks have claimed as many as 300 civilian lives. So far none of these deaths has been acknowledged by CENTCOM.
The report published on Wednesday added that the total civilian death toll from coalition action “could be as high as 600 or more than 1,000” since the operation against the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS, ISIL) started in Syria in 2014.
One of the strikes investigated by Amnesty took place in the early hours of December 7, 2015. The attacks hit two houses in the village of Ayn al-Khan, near al-Hawl in al-Hasakah governorate in northern Syria, killing 40 civilians, including 19 children, and injuring at least 30 others, the report said.
According to an eyewitness account, an initial night strike was followed by a second attack from a helicopter gunship, which hit first responders trying to dig out survivors.
“At this point I had a two-month-old baby boy in my arms whom I had rescued. The hit caused me to fall and drop him… I fell into the hole made by the air strike. That was what saved me… My mother, aunt, wife and children – a daughter who was four years old and a son who was two and a half were all killed. The woman and her son who I’d rescued were killed. Everyone but me was killed,” the survivor said.
The strike is believed to have targeted IS fighters. But local Kurdish militia reportedly warned the coalition that there were civilians in the area.
Amnesty said CENTCOM’s failure to acknowledge civilian deaths in Syria, as well as the poor record of investigating such incidents in Afghanistan and Iraq, poses grave concerns over the toll which the civilian population of Mosul, Iraq is likely to face from the ongoing operation to take the city from ISIL. The US-led coalition is providing air support for the offensive.
“Given the likely increase in air strikes by the US-led Coalition as part of the Iraqi offensive to recapture Mosul, it is even more pressing that CENTCOM be fully transparent about the impact of their military actions on civilians. And it is crucial that they adhere scrupulously to international humanitarian law, including by taking all feasible precautions to spare civilians and to minimize harm to civilian homes and infrastructure,” said Maalouf.
A similar operation to capture Manbij, Syria, which is far smaller than Mosul, killed more than 200 civilians, Amnesty estimated.
Last week, Amnesty International blasted Russia for civilian deaths in Aleppo. The Syrian city is divided between government forces and various armed groups, including the Al-Qaeda offshoot Al-Nusra Front. Russia says that the militants use civilians as human shields and would not allow them to leave the city, derailing several attempts by Russia to open humanitarian corridors out of the city.
On Tuesday, Syria’s Permanent Representative to the UN Bashar Jafari called for halting the attacks launched by the US-led international coalition on the Syrian infrastructure and the country’s oil and gas facilities, which have amounted to the destruction of the Syrian nation’s assets.
Jafari clarified in two letters directed to the Chiefs of UN Secretary General and the UN Security Council that the aggression which has recently targeted the oil and gas fields in the Provinces of Deir Ezzur, Raqqa and Hasaka caused huge material damages and an almost complete demolition of some facilities.
He noted that the aggression of the “international coalition” along with the unilateral coercive measures imposed by some states on the Syrian people is responsible for the deterioration of the difficult circumstances which undergo in Syria.
He said that Syria keeps its right of demanding the US-led international coalition to pay compensations due to the targeting of its infrastructure, according to the international law.