Syrian air force accused of using barrel explosives to kill 76 in Aleppo

Activists call Aleppo bombing 'unprecedented' as UN says war refugees to swell to 4.1m by 2015

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 5:24pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 10:27pm

The Syrian air force was yesterday accused of killing 76 people by unleashing barrels packed with explosives on Aleppo, a focal point for fighting between regime and rebel forces.

The bombardment, which activists described as "unprecedented", came as the United Nations said the number of Syrian war refugees in the Middle East was likely to double to 4.1 million by the end of next year.

The number of people slain in Sunday's bombing of Aleppo "with explosive-packed barrels ... rose to 76", including "28 children and four women", said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, updating its previous toll of 36 dead.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said it was "one of the heaviest tolls from air raids since the beginning of the war" that flared after a brutal regime crackdown on Arab spring-inspired democracy protests that erupted in March 2011.

Explosive-laden barrels were dropped on six rebel-controlled districts in the east, including Sakhur, Ard al-Hamra and Haydariyeh, Abdel Rahman said.

The Observatory and activists said government forces frequently drop the barrels filled with TNT on rebel-held areas of the war-torn country from helicopters and warplanes.

"The barrels of explosives are not like bombs. Their impact is not accurate as they are dropped without any guidance system, and that is why they cause a large number of victims," said Abdel Rahman. The devices are made up of metal barrels that have a layer of concrete inside them "so that they cause as much destruction and death as possible", he said.

There are two types of barrel bombs: one home-made and the other made in factories.

A Syrian security official said the army prefers the TNT-packed barrels because they are cheaper than regular bombs, which need to be imported from Russia.

The Aleppo Media Centre, a network of activists on the ground, called Sunday's raids on the city "unprecedented".

"Everyone is looking up at the skies and watching the planes. But there's nothing to be done," an AMC activist, Mohammed al-Khatieb, said.

Activists posted video footage online of the aftermath of Sunday's barrel bomb attacks, showing bulldozers clearing rubble from the streets as men searched for any survivors in wrecked buildings.

The barrel bombings came as Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom prepared to brief the United Nations Security Council on the use of the banned chemical weapons in the war.

Sellstrom led an investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

His team published a report on Thursday, saying there was "credible evidence" that the controversial arms had been used five times since the conflict broke out 33 months ago.