Syria: Assad 'Employing Cluster Bombs' In War

Alex Crawford, Special Correspondent, in northern Syria

Sky News has found overwhelming evidence that the Syrian regime is using cluster bombs against its own people, in contravention of international laws.

It comes despite repeated denials by Bashar al Assad's government, which has insisted the regime does not even possess the weapons.

The claims had already been made by rebel activists who are denounced by the Assad regime as terrorists and were then backed up by Human Rights Watch.

But until now the accusations could not be independently verified and have been repeatedly written off as lies and propaganda by the Syrian government.

This week, the UN political affairs chief told the Security Council that there was "credible evidence" that the regime had used cluster bombs, which release many small bomblets over a wide area.

But Sky cameraman Garwen McLuckie, producer Nick Ludlam, cameraman Jim Foster and myself travelled to northern Syria and discovered scores of unexploded Russian-made cluster bombs ourselves, providing overwhelming evidence that the regime is indeed using weapons. They are considered some of the most lethal in the world.

The eyewitnesses we spoke to described the bombs raining down on them. Many still had unexploded bombs in their homes.

Two people died in the town of Tal Rafaat, near the Turkish border when the Government dropped cluster bombs from jets.

The bombs scattered the bomblets over a wide area, landing in fields, on top of scores of homes and hitting cars driving down the road.

Shortly afterwards, according to residents, the jets also attacked Maarat Al Numan. Both towns have a strong rebel presence and many residents told us they believed they had been attacked because of their anti-government stand.

One resident of Tal Rafaat, who did not want to be named for fear of government reprisals, told us: "I am very scared. I have three children and they are all sick now and I believe it was because of the cluster bombs that they are sick.

"They have been terrified since we were attacked."

He showed us holes in his roof, in his garden wall and in his front room where the bombs had landed.

"Assad is a criminal," he said, "I am 42-years-old and I have never heard of this, in Chechnya or Palestine or anywhere in the world where a president attacks his own people like this. He wants to kill all of us."

Aamar Alommer, who also has three children, aged six, four and seven months, showed how the bombs had punctured his water tank and diesel storage before blowing a hole in his ceiling as his family were all at home having dinner.

"This is not just against international law," he said. "This is against humanity."

Foreign Secretary William Hague has condemned the discovery. He said: "This footage is further evidence of the brutality of the Assad regime.

"The apparent use of cluster munitions shows an appalling disregard for human life. It reinforces the urgent need for all members of the UN Security Council to unite and respond to the crisis, and for all countries to step up efforts to hold the regime to account."

Many of the residents believe the attacks amount to a war crime and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is hoarding the intact bombs in a secret location as evidence.

Two Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters accompanied us gathering up the unexploded cluster bombs which the residents repeatedly produced as we went from house to house.

Ahmed Ousow told us the aircraft turned up just after Friday prayers on October 12.

"There were lots of people around. The residents had all just attended prayers. there were no demonstrations at that time and then suddenly the jet started bombing," he said.

He spoke of finding two big bombs with multiple smaller bombs inside - and most inside did not detonate.

A few weeks earlier, in Bdama, also near the Turkish border, we discovered a landmine planted in the middle of a residential area and left behind by the retreating Syrian army.

The civil war in Syria is becoming more and more vicious - with video surfacing on the internet of the FSA fighters executing groups of captured Syrian soldiers. The United Nations said if it could be verified, the killings would also amount to a war crime.

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