Civilian Casualties

Civilian Casualties

Incident Code

ISSY026

Incident date

July 6, 2022

Location

المرج, Al Marj, Quneitra, Syria

Geolocation

33.280500, 35.830590 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

A 46 year old man was killed in alleged Israeli drone strikes on the town of Al Marj west of Hader on July 6, 2022. Sources were conflicted as to whether the man killed was a civilian or a member of Hezbollah or regime forces.

Shaam News reported that an Israeli drone killed “Farid Fouad Mustafa” in the area of Hadi’s quarry, adding that he was a member of the “Ba’ath Party” in his town and “he is known for his slander, his participation in a number of massacres and thefts, and his thirst for blood”.

Syrian Arab News Agency, the regime-controlled news agency, also reported that a young man was killed, referring to him as a civilian, and stating that he was killed near his home by an Israeli rocket while @AsharqNewsSYR stated that Mustafa was 46 years old and was killed when the bombardment hit his workplace.

However, @najlaasaadee identified Mustafa as being part of the auxiliary forces of the Syrian Army. @aabnour referred to Mustafa as being “a close associate of the Hezbollah militia” and then went on to say that he  ” is considered one of the personalities close to the Iranian militias and works with a group of elements in the trade and promotion of narcotics for their benefit”.

All of the sources that reported on the incident attributed the strikes to Israel, and @AsharqNewsSYR added that the drone came from the Syrian Golan.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 1
  • (0–1 men)
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attacker
    Israeli Military
  • Suspected targets
    Assad regime, Hezbollah, Iranian military
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–1

Sources (8) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (2) [ collapse]

  • "Farid Fouad Mustafa", killed by an alleged Israeli drone strike on Al Marj on July 6, 2022. Sources were conflicted as to whether he was a militant of a civilian. (Image posted by @najlaasaadee)
  • "Farid Fouad Mustafa", killed by an alleged Israeli drone strike on Al Marj on July 6, 2022. Sources were conflicted as to whether he was a militant of a civilian. (Image posted by @aabnour)

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the Al Marj (المرج) area, allegedly west of the town of Hader (حضر), in the vicinity of Hadi (هادي) quarry. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. The generic coordinates for Hader are: 33.280500, 35.830590.

Israeli Military Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Israeli Military
  • Israeli Military position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 1
  • (0–1 men)
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attacker
    Israeli Military
  • Suspected targets
    Assad regime, Hezbollah, Iranian military
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–1

Sources (8) [ collapse]

Incident Code

TS524 ISSY025

Incident date

July 4, 2022

Location

هوشان, Hoshan, Raqqa, Syria

Geolocation

36.484055, 38.686187 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

One to two civilians were reported killed and three others were injured, including two children, on July 4th 2022, when Turkish or Israeli shelling targeted the village of Al-Hoshan in the countryside of Ain Issa, Syria. The majority of the sources blamed Turkey for the attack but Sout Al Hayat reported that it was as a result of Israeli bombing.

According to local sources the civilian killed was Sheikh Mohammed, aged 25. The two injured children were reported to be Khaled Jabal Ahmed, aged 16, and Bouzan Ossi, aged 17. Hawar News also reported that Mohammed Buzan Sabri, aged 25, was injured as well. There is some conflicting information in different sources as Ahmad Al Aidan, a local source on Facebook reported that Buzan Ossi was killed, not injured like in previous reports. The SDF Press Center reported that the Turkish attack killed two civilians, Sheikh Mohammed and Bouzan Ossi, who died in hospital after being subjected to a severe head injury.  The third person reported injured was Cebel Ehmed, aged 16.

North Press Agency reported that the media center of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said that the village of Hoshan in the western countryside of Ain Issa district, was hit with artillery shelling by the Turkish forces and the SNA. North Press Agency put the death toll at two civilians and mentioned that two others were injured.

Ain Issa Plus reported that a tunnel digger was killed and two others were injured.

The SDF Press Center reported that this attack happened at 4pm and blamed Turkey.

The incident occured at 16:00:00 local time.

  • Sheikh Mohammed 25 years old male killed
  • Bouzan Ossi 17 years old male killed
  • Khaled Jabal Ahmed 16 years old male injured
  • Cebel Ehmed 16 years old male injured

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    1 – 2
  • (0–1 children)
  • Civilians reported injured
    2–3
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    Turkish Military, Israeli Military

Sources (11) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (2) [ collapse]

  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    SDF Press Center reported that two civilians have been killed and two injured after Turkish shelling on July 4th 2022.

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the village of Hoshan (هوشان), for which the generic coordinates are: 36.484055, 38.686187. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

Turkish Military Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Turkish Military
  • Turkish Military position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Israeli Military Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Israeli Military
  • Israeli Military position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    1 – 2
  • (0–1 children)
  • Civilians reported injured
    2–3
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    Turkish Military, Israeli Military

Sources (11) [ collapse]

Incident Code

ISSY024

Incident date

July 1, 2022

Location

سهل عكار, Sahel Akkar, Tartus, Syria

Airwars assessment

At least two civilians, including a woman, were injured in alleged Israeli strikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022.

According to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), two civilians, including a woman, were injured and material damage was caused when Israeli missiles struck a number of poultry farms near Hamidiya town. A military source told SANA that “at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, the Israeli enemy carried out an air missile aggression from over the Mediterranean Sea, west of the Lebanese city of Tripoli, targeting several poultry farms in the vicinity of Hamidiya town, south of Tartous.”

SANA provided the name of one of the victims: “Ali Rahmoun, from the village of al-Qubaiba, who suffered a broken leg in the attack, said that the Israeli missiles caused damage to his house and more than three kilometers of agricultural land planted with aborigines, in addition to two water wells.”

@TvIdlib reported that “dead and wounded” were a result of the Israeli airstrikes on “the positions of the Assad militia and the Iranian militias” but did not identify whether the casualties were civilians or militants.

SANA added that the airstrikes caused material damage to the irrigation and electricity networks, in addition to citizens’ private properties. The director of Water Resources of the province, Muhammad Mahrez, told SANA that the aggression destroyed three irrigation channels irrigating approximately 100 hectares, resulting in about 50 million Syrian pounds of damage, and the director of Electricity in the province, Abdel Hamid Mansour, indicated that, due to the aggression, the electrical network suffered great damage, including poles and electricity transmission lines. A citizen named Alaa Ibrahim, from the town of Al-Jamasa, explained that his loss due to the attack is 52 sheep and two cows, in addition to agricultural instruments, which are his only source of livelihood.

@TheSyrianTweet also reported damage to agricultural facilities, including damage to “8 greenhouses with a damage rate of 50-80%, two farms, a cow facility, and a number of farmers’ fields in the area planted with maize and some summer crops”.

A tweet from @SAMSyria0 reported that the sites that were hit by airstrikes “do not have any military character”. However, @AlHadath identified “facilities used by Hezbollah” as being the intended targets and Times of Israel reported that the strikes hit “a weapon transported by sea, possibly using Iranian ships that docked at the port last week” as part of Syria and Iran’s attempt to establish a new air defense system.

All of the sources attributed the strikes to Israel and @DagnyTaggart369 identified “four Israeli Air Force F-16 fighter jets” as being responsible.

The incident occured at approximately 6:30 am local time.

  • Ali Rahmoun Age unknown male injured

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    2
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Israeli Military
  • Suspected targets
    Hezbollah, Iranian military

Sources (14) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (23) [ collapse]

  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by Syrian Arab News Agency)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by Syrian Arab News Agency)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by Syrian Arab News Agency)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by Syrian Arab News Agency)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by Syrian Arab News Agency)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by Syrian Arab News Agency)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by Syrian Arab News Agency)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by Syrian Arab News Agency)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by Syrian Arab News Agency)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by Syrian Arab News Agency)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by Syrian Arab News Agency)
  • Alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by @SAMSyria0)
  • Alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by @SAMSyria0)
  • Alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by @SAMSyria0)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by @SAMSyria0)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by @SAMSyria0)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by @SAMSyria0)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by @SAMSyria0)
  • Damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by @TheSyrianTweet)
  • Alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by @TvIdlib)
  • Alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by @TvIdlib)
  • Alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by @SteeleSyAA)
  • Alleged Israeli airstrikes on Hamidiya town on July 2, 2022. (Image posted by @SteeleSyAA)

Israeli Military Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Israeli Military
  • Israeli Military position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    2
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Israeli Military
  • Suspected targets
    Hezbollah, Iranian military

Sources (14) [ collapse]

Incident Code

ISSY023

Incident date

June 10, 2022

Location

محيط دمشق, vicinity of Damascus, Damascus, Syria

Airwars assessment

At least one civilian was injured in alleged Israeli strikes on Damascus International Airport on June 10, 2022.

According to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), a Syrian regime-run source, one civilian was injured and material damage occurred from Israeli missile strikes. SANA added that the Syrian army air defenses downed most of the missiles and that the strikes occurred at 4:20am.

An image posted by @damascusv011 shows the fires that broke out from the airstrikes, adding that all flights in the airport had been suspended. The private Sham Wings airlines said it is diverting all its flights from Damascus to the Aleppo International Airport in the country’s north and an airport employee told Times of Israel “we had to postpone all flights for at least 48 hours and some flights have been rerouted through Aleppo airport.”

@mas2oul1specified that the two runways of the airport were destroyed, the first one destroyed during a previous strike and the second as a result of this incident. @obretix identified both runways as being hit in the airstrikes.

According to @IntelliTimes, the attacks occurred at a time “that would not endanger civilian landings”.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Friday morning Israeli strike hit three arms depots for Iran-backed militiamen inside the airport, adding that the northern runway at the facility was damaged as was the observation tower.

All of the sources attributed the strikes to Israel, with Arabi 21 adding that the missiles came from the occupied Syrian Golan.

The incident occured at 04:20:00 local time.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Israeli Military
  • Suspected target
    Iranian military

Sources (15) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (4) [ collapse]

  • A picture of the fires that broke out at Damascus International Airport as a result of Israeli raids on June 10, 2022. (Image posted by @damascusv011)
  • "The two runways of Damascus International Airport are suspended due to the Israeli raids.. the first runway is a result of an attack on 5-22 last.. and the second is the result of an attack last night 10/9 June" (Image posted by @mas2oul1)
  • "The two runways of Damascus International Airport are suspended due to the Israeli raids.. the first runway is a result of an attack on 5-22 last.. and the second is the result of an attack last night 10/9 June" (Image posted by @mas2oul1)

Israeli Military Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Israeli Military
  • Israeli Military position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Israeli Military
  • Suspected target
    Iranian military

Sources (15) [ collapse]

Incident Code

ISSY022

Incident date

May 13, 2022

Location

محيط دمشق, Al-Suqaidi village, Maysaf city, Damascus, Syria

Airwars assessment

On May 13th 2022, five to six people were reported killed, one was reported to be a civilian, and seven to nine were injured, including one child, a young girl, when Israeli missiles hit the Central region of Syria in the vicinity of Al-Suqaidi village, Maysaf city, in the Hama countryside. Al Araby news reported that four of the people were killed were soliders, and one was a civilian.

One source, the BBC, said that seven soliders were wounded but Shaam news said that three Syrian soliders, two civil servants were killed, and two Syrian soldiers were wounded.

Whilst the Syrian air defenses intercepted “most” of the missiles, the ones that were not able to be intercepted and hit Syria caused civilian harm.

One person who was reportedly killed was Assistant Ammar Hussein Al-Jubaili, who was described by @Ali29919223 on Twitter as “one of the heroes of the air defense, who refused to leave his vehicle while responding to the agression.”  The other names, reported by Msyaf news said were “Lieutenant Yazan Mualla Ahmad”, “Lieutenant Ayham Abdul Karim Al-Hussein”, “Ahmed Afif Al-Din Muhammad”, and “Ali Alloush.” It is unclear which name is the civilian who was killed.

Al Araby reported that Israeli forces targeted two sites in the Al-Bireh and Al-Suwaidi areas in Masyaf, and targeted weapons depots for the Syrian regime forces and Iranian-backed militas, as well as military buildings under preparation, about two kilometers from the city.  A local source, @brATWXTvNQyCfdR reported that Israeli forces targeted “shipments of Iranian weapons produced at the Scientific Research Center in Masyaf.”

According to Al Araby, fires were also reported to have broken out on agricultural land.

The official Syrian regime news agency, SANA reported that ‘At 23.20 on Friday evening, the Israeli enemy launched an air agression with bursts of missiles from over the Mediterranean, west of Banias, targeting some points in the Central Region.”

A military source was reported to have said, “our air defenses intercepted the missiles and downed most of them”

@Schikhmousa reported on Twitter that apparently the attack was targeting “Iranian militia points.”  There was reported to be a high intensity bombardment which lasted for about an hour.

DW News reported that Syria accuses Israel of carrying out the second bombing of its kind within a month.

AFP reported that “the Israeli army told AFP they do not comment on reports in the foreign media.”

The Times of Israel reported that “an Israeli sattellite company and intelligence firm published images Sunday it said showed the damage at an underground facility in Syria from airstrikes days earlier that were attributed to Israel.” The Times of Israel also reported that these airstrikes were the “second alleged Israeli strike on [Syria] in days.”

The incident occured at approximately 8:23 pm local time.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • Civilians reported injured
    1–9
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Israeli Military
  • Suspected target
    Iranian military
  • Belligerents reported killed
    4–5
  • Belligerents reported injured
    2–8

Sources (32) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (16) [ collapse]

  • SANA News Agency of the Syrian regime reported on the Israeli attack on May 13th 2022 (Image via Sana News Agency)
  • Ammar Hussein Al Jubaili, one Syrian solider who was killed in the Israeli attack on May 13th 2022 (Image via @Ali29919223 / Twitter)
  • "Shipments of Iranian weapons produced at the Scientific Research Center in Masyaf" targeted on May 13th 2022 (@brATWXTvNQyCfdR / Twitter)
  • "Shipments of Iranian weapons produced at the Scientific Research Center in Masyaf" targeted on May 13th 2022 (@brATWXTvNQyCfdR / Twitter)
  • "Shipments of Iranian weapons produced at the Scientific Research Center in Masyaf" targeted on May 13th 2022 (@brATWXTvNQyCfdR / Twitter)
  • One young girl was reportedly injured in an Israeli airstrike on May 13th 2022 (Image via @daraa_net_2020/ Twitter)
  • Msyaf uploaded an image on May 13th 2022 of the aftermath of the Israeli strike in Syria (Image via Msyaf)
  • Syrian regime soldiers allegedly killed by Israeli forces on May 13th 2022 (Image via @diaa_audi / Twitter)
  • One of the missiles allegedly struck by Israeli forces in Syria on May 13th 2022 (Image via @aliwy22 / Twitter)
  • One of the missiles allegedly struck by Israeli forces in Syria on May 13th 2022 (Image via @aliwy22 / Twitter)
  • Engineer George Issa Dagher, an alleged Syrian regime solider who was killed by an Israeli missile on May 13th 2022 (Image via @SAMSyria0 / Twitter)
  • Captain Sharaf: Yazan Mualla Ahmed, a Syrian regime solider allegedly killed by Israeli forces on May 13th 2022 (Image via @SAMSyria0 / Twitter)
  • Ammar Hussein Jubaili, Lieutenant, Syrian regime soldier reportedly killed by Israeli forces on May 13th 2022 (Image via @SAMSyria0 / Twitter)
  • Ali Muhammad Alloush, reportedly killed after an Israeli strike hit Syria on May 13th 2022 (Image via @SAMSyria0 / Twitter)
  • Satellite images taken on May 15th 2022 of strike area where Israeli missile allegedly hit on May 13th 2022 (Image via Euphrates)

Israeli Military Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Israeli Military
  • Israeli Military position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • Civilians reported injured
    1–9
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Israeli Military
  • Suspected target
    Iranian military
  • Belligerents reported killed
    4–5
  • Belligerents reported injured
    2–8

Sources (32) [ collapse]

Published

May 10, 2022

Written by

Imogen Piper

Number of civilians killed decreases across monitored conflicts, while focus on explosive weapons use grows

Civilian harm dropped across most of the major conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa in 2021, Airwars’ annual report has found.

The number of allegations of civilians killed by nearly all belligerents monitored by Airwars fell in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, though there was an escalation in the Israel-Palestinian conflict which caused significant human suffering.

Read Airwars’ full annual report here

US actions decline

The United States, which has fought multiple campaigns across the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia over the past two decades, saw a significant decrease in its activities.

Across all the US campaigns Airwars monitors, including in Syria and Iraq, as well as counterterrorism campaigns in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, civilian harm from US actions fell in 2021, continuing a downward trend in recent years.

In Iraq there were no reports of civilian harm from US actions, while in Syria at least 15 and up to 27 civilians were likely killed by US-led Coalition actions in 20 incidents throughout the year – mostly in combined air and ground actions that appeared to target alleged remnant ISIS fighters.

In Yemen at least two civilians were reportedly killed by US strikes during the year while there were no reliable local allegations of civilians likely killed by US strikes in Libya or Pakistan, according to Airwars’ assessment of local sources.

Even taking into account hundreds of airstrikes in Afghanistan which both the Trump and Biden administrations had initially kept secret, 2021 saw the lowest numbers of declared US military strikes globally since 2006.

However, 2021 was also a year in which focus was again placed on civilian harm caused by historic US actions.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist atrocities, Airwars conducted an investigation to estimate how many civilians were likely killed by US forces alone in the subsequent 20 years of the so-called War on Terror. The research concluded that an estimated 22,000 to 48,000 civilians had been killed directly by US actions in two decades of war according to public records –  the vast majority of fatalities were in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  The findings were cited in the opening remarks of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing “’Targeted Killing’ and the Rule of Law: The Legal and Human Costs of 20 Years of U.S. Drone Strikes,” and were covered by more than 60 news outlets globally, in at least ten languages.

The Pentagon’s troubling management of civilian harm allegations was highlighted by another Airwars investigation during 2021, leading the Pentagon to withdraw and republish their own annual report to Congress. Airwars uncovered nine historic incidents in Iraq and Syria that the US had declared responsibility for killing civilians in, which were actually conducted by US allies including Australia, France, the United Kingdom and Belgium.

Brief but brutal Gaza conflict

In May 2021 an intense and deadly conflict lasting just eleven days erupted between Israeli and Palestinian forces. As on previous occasions, civilians paid the highest price. Airwars documented the human impact of this short but brutal conflict in both Gaza and Israel, working for the first time in three primary languages – Arabic, Hebrew and English.

The research found that Israeli strikes, continually impacting across the densely populated streets of Gaza, led to the likely deaths of between 151 and 192 civilians. Over a third of civilians killed in Gaza were children and in more than 70% of the allegations documented by Airwars, civilians – not militants – were the only documented victims. In Israel, ten civilians were directly killed by rockets fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from Gaza.

The report also documented civilian harm from Israeli strikes in Syria, which across eight years had led to the deaths of between 14 and 40 civilians. Comparatively this civilian harm estimate stands in stark contrast to the numbers of those killed in just eleven days. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world, whilst Israeli strikes in Syria were conducted on military targets mostly in sparsely populated areas.

Airwars’ Senior Investigator Joe Dyke partnered with the Guardian on a piece interviewing the residents of a tower destroyed by Israel Defence Forces during the May 2021 conflict. Al-Jalaa Tower was home to dozens of civilians and a number of offices, including those of Associated Press and Al-Jazeera. All were given an hour’s notice to evacuate the tower and scramble together their possessions before seeing their homes destroyed in front of them. The investigation recently won an Amnesty Media Award.

Russian assault in Syria

Long before Russia’s assault on Ukraine in February 2022, Airwars had been tracking civilian harm caused by extensive Russian actions in Syria.

Whilst allegations of civilian harm fell to their lowest rate this year since 2015, after a 2020 ceasefire agreement between Russia and Turkey continued to hold, Putin’s forces continued to strike Idlib and other rebel-held areas of Syria with air and artillery strikes.

Approximately 48% of civilian harm allegations against Russia during 2021 occurred in Idlib, whilst 2% occurred in Hama, and 23% in Aleppo governorate. In total as many as 280 civilians were killed by Russian and/or Syrian regime air and artillery strikes.

This significant but comparatively lower civilian casualty count came alongside Russia’s escalation of military operations in preparation for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which has subsequently led to mass civilian harm.

Explosive weapons

An overarching theme throughout Airwars’ work during the year, and a key focus for our advocacy outreach, was on restricting the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA).

Whether in Syria, Iraq, Gaza or any of the other conflicts Airwars monitors, when explosive weapons are used in densely populated areas, the potential for civilian harm dramatically increases.

Throughout 2021, Airwars worked with international partners to support a strongly worded UN-backed international political declaration against the use of EWIPA. The final UN-backed conference debating this declaration will be held in summer 2022, with Airwars playing a key role advocating for change.

▲ An airstrike in Gaza is the front cover image for Airwars' 2021 annual report (Credit: Hani al Shaer)

Published

April 8, 2022

Written by

Sanjana Varghese

International gathering brings nearer a protocol on restricting explosive weapon use in urban areas.

States edged closer to a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas on April 8th, after three days of crunch talks in Geneva.

More than 65 states descended on the Swiss city for key talks on the wording of a political declaration that advocates believe would save thousands of lives by restricting the use of wide area effect explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). Detractors, such as the United States government, argue it would unfairly limit the freedom of their own military actions and have threatened not to sign.

While no final text was agreed upon Friday, all sides struck an optimistic tone at the end of the three-day meet – saying a deal was nearer than ever. Delegates will meet again for one day in two months before an adoption ceremony expected in the summer.

“There are clearly differences of opinion but we have seen a very positive, solution oriented approach,” the chairperson, Ambassador Michael Gaffey of Ireland, said. “We are not simply working on a formula of words in a political declaration –  we want to make a real difference and impact on the ground and foster behavioural change.”

The talks were given additional urgency by the ongoing war in Ukraine, and Russia’s extensive use of explosive weapons on its cities. Moscow did not attend the talks.

Even the United States, widely viewed as one of the most hostile states to a declaration with teeth, struck a more positive tone than in previous meets. “There are still tough drafting issues and decisions ahead, and we have to get them right. The US delegation pledges our goodwill, to help to get to a positive outcome. We look forward to doing so.”

Since 2018, Ireland has chaired consultations on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. In the sessions since, the need for such a declaration – which is not legally binding and so does not create new legal obligations – has only become clearer.

“The draft declaration text holds the potential to make a meaningful contribution to the protection of civilians, and negotiations over the past few days have overall been constructive,” Laura Boillot of INEW, a network of NGOs pushing for the protocol, told Airwars.

“But decisions will now need to be made if the final text is going to have humanitarian effect. Most importantly it needs to establish a presumption against the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in towns, cities and other populated areas.”

It will be a failure to leave this room agreeing that simply restating existing laws will reduce civilian harm – a failure for all of us who came here with the intention to reduce that harm in the first place." @alma_osta in HI concluding remarks at #EWIPA negotiations today. pic.twitter.com/pTKpgfqWWU

— HI_Advocacy (@HI_Advocacy) April 8, 2022

Civil society groups and international agencies made a strong case for restricting EWIPA.

Three days of consultations

During three days of focused talks, several key fissures bubbled. While states in attendance – and civil society organisations – repeatedly emphasised the shared desire to produce a tangible and meaningful political declaration that could help save civilian lives on the ground, the practicalities of the process made clear that good intentions weren’t going to be enough.

On the first day of the informal consultations on April 6th, states made general remarks – affirming their support for the proceedings as well as their national positions – after an introductory statement from Ireland, the penholder.

In these general remarks, most states tended towards re-affirming the positions they had made clear in previous negotiations. On the hawkish side, the UK, US, Israel and Canada all emphasized that their positions as militarily active states meant that they would not sign a declaration in its current form, which included strong language about avoiding the use of explosive weapons in urban areas. Throughout the week, the delegates from these countries could often be seen meeting as a bloc outside of formal proceedings.

Many of the sticking points that emerged on the first day continued to dominate both the main floor and side conversations. The predominant line of argument was between those who argued that the declaration needed only to reaffirm the importance of international humanitarian law and provide further guidance about how to do so in this context; and those who asserted that this declaration needed to strengthen existing commitments and add new ones for states around the use of explosive weapons.

The second day of discussions took a more technical turn, with the majority of interventions focused on the wording of specific clauses and paragraphs of the text.

Clause 3.3, which attracted much attention in previous consultations, was once  again hotly debated. It is one of the first clauses in Section B, the operative section – which lays out the actions that states have to comply with if they choose to sign onto the declaration.

In the current draft, Clause 3.3 says states must: “Ensure that our armed forces adopt and implement a range of policies and practices to avoid civilian harm, including by restricting or refraining from the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, when the effects may be expected to extend beyond a military objective.”

The bulk of the discussion around this clause was on the second sentence, as many states intervened on the use of “restricting or refraining,” with some suggesting it was strong enough while others lobbied instead for the use of “avoid”.

A split between the majority of civil society organisations and militarily-powerful states was apparent during these parts of the discussions, with NGOs and international agencies pushing for stronger language, rather than trying to place limits on what kinds of civilian harm would be protected under this new declaration.

Airwars’ incoming director and current head of research Emily Tripp also made an intervention – emphasising how crucial it was for states to actually track civilian harm.

Airwars’ incoming director Emily Tripp addresses a UN-backed conference on explosive weapons in Geneva on April 7th, 2022 (Image: Airwars)

At the end of day two INEW, one of the organisers, named nine states – Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Israel, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States – that it said had “worked to weaken declaration provisions.” The UK delegation, for example, agreed that tracking civilian harm was a ‘moral obligation,’ but then highlighted ways in which it claimed this was not feasible – arguing that live hostilities made it near impossible to monitor casualties properly.

But INEW also said that there had been a “shift in the collective tone set by states since the last round of negotiations, with more governments explicitly committed to strengthening the protection of civilians through the declaration.”

The statement said this was likely as a response to the bombing of Ukrainian towns and cities, and the Ukraine crisis loomed large over the conflict. Not only did the majority of states open their remarks with condemnation of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, many also emphasised the importance of a meaningful political declaration with specific reference to Ukrainian cities and towns such as Mariupol, Bucha and Khrarkiv.

There was also an emphasis on the value of protecting civilian objects and infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, with states such as Mexico and the delegate for the Holy See (which holds observer state) urging specific language around the need to protect hospitals, blood transfusion centres, and environmental and religious sites.

Speaking at the end of the latest talks, Ambassador Gaffey said Ireland and organisers would review the submissions from all parties before a month or two of further work on the text. He said states and NGOs would then hold a final one-day consultation in a couple of months, before a political adoption ceremony where states would declare their support for the text.

As Alma Taslidžan Al-Osta, of Humanity and Inclusion, noted in her own concluding remarks to delegates: “Eleven years in Syria, seven years in Yemen and over a month in Ukraine have taught us that explosive weapons with wide area effects should not be used in towns, cities and populated areas. The status quo is no longer an option.”

Civilians increasingly bear the brunt of modern conflicts. Addressing the devastating harm to civilians from Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas is a priority for 🇮🇪. We welcome states, international organisations and civil society to consultations in Geneva this week #EWIPA pic.twitter.com/pAyglwZO9D

— Disarmament IRELAND (@DisarmamentIRL) April 6, 2022

Ireland chaired Geneva talks on restricting urban use of explosive weapons

▲ The three-day EWIPA conference in Geneva sought to reach a deal on the use of explosive weapons in urban environments (Airwars)

Published

April 7, 2022

Written by

Sanjana Varghese

Crunch talks in Geneva aim to hammer out protocol on explosive weapons in urban areas

The shadow of the Ukraine conflict loomed large over the first day of the informal UN-backed consultations on a political declaration on restricting the use of wide area effect explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA), currently underway in Geneva.

Delegates from more than 65 nations have gathered to fine tune the language of the political declaration, along with more than 15 civil society organisations including Airwars. The chairperson, Michael Gaffey of Ireland, opened the proceedings by calling for a minute of silence for Ukraine.

Nujeen Mustafa, who had fled the war in Aleppo, then powerfully testified via a video message, saying, “throughout history, diplomats have discussed world problems while sitting at a table with a nice coffee. People trapped in a conflict zone cannot do that. Today, you have the possibility to change a terrible situation and protect civilians.”

Nujeen Mustafa, a Syrian who fled Aleppo after it was largely destroyed by explosive weapons, addresses delegates:“While you’ve been negotiating whether a declaration should be made, 11,076 people have fallen victim to these weapons" she sayshttps://t.co/DI9vYhD6nq

— Airwars (@airwars) April 6, 2022

While there are two days of discussion left before proceedings close on Friday evening, many of the most pressing issues arose in proceedings on Wednesday – particularly as states laid out their own positions during opening remarks. Here are five key themes from the first day of EWIPA negotiations.

1. The conflict in Ukraine adds a sense of urgency

The first statement was made by the Ukrainian delegate, who noted that “our cities and towns have been turned into dead ash because of the use of these explosive weapons” – highlighting a new sense of urgency and relevance which the negotiations have taken on.

Every delegate who spoke made reference to the Ukraine conflict, with many emphasising that the violent and horrific violence against Ukrainian civilians must move states to act more effectively. The French delegate noted that Russia did not attend the proceedings, while the Japanese delegation emphasised the importance of documenting civilian harm in Ukraine.

Many other states called on Russia to cease its aggression and indiscriminate bombing of civilians and it was noted multiple times that Russia’s campaign has targeted and destroyed civilian neighbourhoods using wide area effect explosive weapons – referring to the scenes of destruction in Kherson, Mariupol, and Kharkiv.

2.  The gap between ‘IHL is enough’ and ‘IHL does not go far enough’

Broadly the delegates and countries fall into two groups – those that believe international humanitarian law (IHL) is enough to protect civilians under attack in urban areas – and those that argue more is needed to protect civilians.

States such as the USA, UK, France and Israel argued that any political declaration could not introduce new legal requirements (which it cannot) and that the requirements currently set out under IHL should be sufficient protection for civilians. Currently, these frameworks emphasise for example that deliberately attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure constitutes a violation of IHL – and that any military actions must be both proportionate, and distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Those backing strong wording to the political declaration text – from Ireland to the ICRC – insist that adherence to IHL alone is not doing enough to protect civilians during much urban fighting.

The US nevertheless called on those states gathered not to produce an “unrealistic impression” that civilians would not be harmed in conflict, while emphasising that explosive weapons are “considered a legitimate and lawful means of warfare when used in accordance with IHL.”

But other states, as well as civil society organisations such as Human Rights Watch, emphasised that any resolution which merely restated the value of IHL – and how states must abide by it – would effectively be useless, as it would be an iteration of what states have already committed to.

States such as Finland and Sweden remarked that there are gaps within IHL around EWIPA , and mere compliance with IHL is not enough to protect civilians.  This has been an ongoing fissure during previous consultations, and continues to be a major fault line.

3.  Reverberating effects

The particularities of the language used in the eventual political declaration are at the heart of the ongoing consultations in Geneva – with discussions about whether to “avoid” or “restrict” the use of explosive weapons in populated areas already a key sticking point.

An additional area of tension appears to the so-called “reverberating effects” of EWIPA, which are essentially the long-term effects.

An example of a reverberating effect would be the destruction of a bridge. If destroyed, it has the immediate effect of removing a crucial piece of civilian infrastructure. But even after the conflict finishes the destruction could also mean that people can’t travel across a certain river, making it harder to access other kinds of civilian infrastructure such as hospitals or schools.

These long-term impacts were the subject of much discussion on Wednesday – with some states, such as the US, Israel, and the UK all noting that ‘reverberating effects’ is neither a legal term nor – they claimed – a widely accepted term with a clear definition. The US also said it would not accept a ‘novel’ term such as reverberating effects in the eventual political declaration.

However, civil society organisations such as PAX and observer states such as the Vatican suggested that it would be difficult to meaningfully understand the full implications of how civilian populations were impacted without incorporating ‘reverberating’ effects.

4. Focus on the humanitarian impacts

The Holy See opened its own remarks by noting that it believes conventional weapons should be named “weapons of mass displacement,” a nod to the ongoing long term effects that explosive weapons can have. The Danish Refugee Council also noted that the use of EWIPA can contribute to displacement, and in time, continuously produce forms of renewed displacement.

Some other states such as Uruguay emphasised the need to collect and monitor the impacts of EWIPA on specific groups – such as those with disabilities, or those who face discrimination because of their gender. Organisations such as CIVIC, PAX and Humanity and Inclusion also spoke about the psychological and mental effects of the use of explosive weapons, notably the need for a survivor-centric approach to any kind of political declaration.

 5. The impact of non-state actors 

While the political declaration is primarily a matter between states, the UK, Israel, the US and others asked that the considerations around EWIPA must also extend to non-state actors, such as armed groups, in the interest of maintaining what they termed a balanced account of how explosive weapons are actually used in populated areas.

The US noted for example that “the declaration has to make it clear that all belligerents, including non-state armed groups, must take steps to address the harms to civilians and civilian objects.” The Turkish delegation argued that asking non-state actors to really consider these impacts would also mean they would be considered as legitimate parties to an international armed conflict – which they are currently, for the most part, not.

The declaration has to make it clear that all belligerents, including non state armed groups, must take steps to address the harms to civilians and civilian objects,” says the USA, intervening for the second time today. pic.twitter.com/cNBYvzncqN

— Airwars (@airwars) April 6, 2022

▲ MPs from various European countries attend the first day of EWIPA talks on April 6, 2022 (Photo: INEW)