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Report: Syria using widely-banned cluster bombs

A Human Rights Watch report points to new evidence that the Syrian regime is using the widely-banned munitions, which pose a significant risk to civilians long into the future.

By Jamal HalabyAssociated Press / October 14, 2012

Two members of the Free Syrian Army stand on a tank as they gesture "V" for victory in the Saraqib area near the northern city of Idlib in Syria October 12.

Eyad Garood/Reuters

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Amman, Jordan

An international human rights group said Sunday it has obtained new evidence that Syrian troops are using cluster bombs – widely banned munitions that pose a grave risk to civilians because they burst into bomblets over large areas and often linger on the ground, detonating only when touched.

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Steve Goose of US-based Human Right Watch said cluster bombs "have been comprehensively banned by most nations, and Syria should immediately stop all use of these indiscriminate weapons that continue to kill and maim for years." HRW had previously reported cluster bomb remnants found in Homs and nearby Hama this summer.

"Syria's disregard for its civilian population is all too evident in its air campaign, which now apparently includes dropping these deadly cluster bombs into populated areas," said Goose, who is HRW's arms director. Syrian government officials had no immediate comment.

There were also new signs of the mounting tensions between Turkey and Syria, two former allies who have become bitter foes since the outbreak of the 19-month-old rebellion against President Bashar Assad. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced that Turkey is barring Syrian civilian flights from Turkey's airspace, a day after Syria issued such a ban for Turkish commercial aircraft. Davutoglu said Syria is "abusing" civilian flights by using them to transport military equipment.

Last week, Turkey forced a Syrian plane coming from Russia to land and confiscated what it said was military equipment on board. Russia said the plane was carrying spare radar parts, while Syria accused Turkey of piracy.

Turkey reinforcing naval bases

After a week of exchanges of fire across the volatile border, a Turkish newspaper reported that Turkey has reinforced four naval bases along its Mediterranean coast north of Syria. In an unattributed report, the Hurriyet daily said Turkey sent frigates with cannons, as well as anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles to the naval bases.

Turkey has been retaliating for Syrian shells and mortar rounds hitting Turkish soil.

Despite Turkey's recent measures, Syrian opposition leaders say Ankara and other foreign backers of the rebels are not doing enough to help them break the battlefield stalemate. Abdelbaset Sieda, head of the largest opposition group, the Syrian National Council, said the international community is doing nothing more than managing the Syrian conflict.

The international community must establish safe havens in Syria and enforce no-fly zones to help the rebels counter the regime's airstrikes on rebel-held areas, Sieda told reporters in Istanbul, Turkey. This would also cut down on the number of Syrians seeking refuge abroad and "resolve the humanitarian crisis, especially with winter approaching," he said.

The idea of safe havens has found little international support. Foreign backers of the rebels fear being dragged deeper into the conflict. Over the summer, the Assad regime stepped up airstrikes in an attempt to dislodge rebel fighters from urban strongholds, sharply driving up daily casualty tolls.

Video evidence of cluster bombs

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