February 19, 2014 / 5:06 PM / 6 years ago

Powerful new cluster bombs used in Syria: rights group

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian military has begun targeting opposition areas with a new type of cluster munitions rockets which is larger and more powerful than others in its arsenal, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

The New York-based group published photographs and witness testimony on its website which it said indicate that the army attacked the western town of Kafar Zeita on February 12 and 13 with at least four 300 mm rockets loaded with sub-munitions.

The attack occurred while a Syrian government delegation was in Geneva for peace talks with the opposition. The talks ended on Saturday without any progress.

Cluster bombs randomly scatter small munitions over a vast area. Many bomblets explode on impact, but some do not, becoming landmines that can endanger residents for years.

HRW said each of the rockets used this month contained up to 72 anti-personnel bomblets which are heavier and deadlier than types previously used in Syria’s nearly three-year-old conflict.

“It is appalling that Syrian government forces are still using banned cluster munitions on their people,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at HRW. “Cluster bombs are killing Syrian civilians now and threatening Syrians for generations to come.”

HRW said two civilians were killed and at least 10 wounded in the attacks this month. It could not confirm their source but said it was “highly unlikely” they came from the rebel side.

It cited a local activist from Kafar Zeita, 30 km (20 miles) north of the city of Hama, who said the rockets were launched from Hama airport, which the Syrian government controls. He said there were no Free Syrian Army targets in the affected areas.

Due to media restrictions in Syria, it was not possible to independently verify the reports.

Kafar Zeita fell to rebels in December 2012 and has been the repeated target of Syrian government air strikes, artillery shelling and barrel bombs - crudely-made explosive containers.

More than 140,000 people have been killed in the Syrian war, which began with peaceful demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad but turned into an armed uprising after security forces used violence on the protesters.

Reporting by Stephen Kalin

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