October 14, 2012 - 16:43 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Syrian government forces have dropped Russian-made cluster bombs over civilian areas in the past week as they battle to push back rebel gains, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday, October 14.
The bombs were dropped from planes and helicopters, with many of the strikes taking place near the main north-south highway running through the northwestern town of Maarat al-Numan, HRW said in a report.
Rebels seized Maarat al-Numan from President Bashar al-Assad's troops last week, cutting the route from the capital Damascus to Aleppo, Syria's biggest city. Government forces have been trying to retake the area since then.
HRW previously reported Syrian use of cluster bombs, which have been banned by most countries, in July and August but the renewed strikes indicate the government's determination to regain strategic control in the northwest.
Towns targeted included Maarat, Tamanea, Taftanaz and al-Tah. Cluster bombs were also used in other areas in Homs, Aleppo and Lattakia provinces as well as near Damascus, the rights group said.
Initial information about the use of the explosives came from videos posted online by opposition activists although HRW investigators said it had confirmed the incidents in interviews with resident in two towns.
Cluster bombs explode in the air, scattering dozens of smaller bomblets over an area the size of a sports field. Most nations have banned their use under a convention which became international law in 2010, but Syria has not signed it.
Syrian government officials were not immediately available to comment on the HRW report.