Special Reports  ::   A Special Report on the Recent Air Attacks on Aleppo: Potential Death Falling from the Sky…

A Special Report on the Recent Air Attacks on Aleppo

Potential Death Falling from the Sky…

Violation Documentation Center in Syria

March 2014



Aleppo, Tariq al-Bab Neighborhood, Halawania Square 23-11-2013


"When I heard the sound of helicopters hovering over the city, I rushed to the top of the house to watch. After a few seconds I saw two cylindrical objects falling from the plane. At first, I thought they were parts of the helicopter, a few seconds later, those two objects hit the ground causing a massive explosion”

With these words, Alaa al-Faqeer, a member of the Violation Document Center in Syria (“VDC”), describes the first time the regime forces dropped an explosive barrel on Da'el city in Daraa on 18-7-2012. The explosion caused the death of four people whose bodieswere consequently torn into fragments. It also completely destroyed two houses.

The VDC has documented the first attack using explosive barrels on Hayyan town. This town is in the northern suburbs of Aleppo, 365 km north of Damascus. The attack took place in September 2012

“Imad Syrian", an activist and member of the VDC who is from the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, says that the Syrian regime began by bombing the city of Aleppo with vacuum rockets and "regular" explosive barrels stuffed with T. N. T., scrap, nails and other types of iron. However, it has recently begun to fill “water tanks and containers, weighing up to about 1000 kg” with such explosive materials and throw them onto civilian neighborhoods from helicopters. In October 2013, moreover, the regime forces dropped "garbage containers” packed with stones onto Safira in the countryside near to Aleppo, deliberately and indiscriminately targeting rebellious neighborhoods. The eastern neighborhoods were particularly targeted. As the bombing mostly targeted residential communities with large human populations, the majority of the casualties were "civilians". For example the Alhaidariya Square, which is the main station for buses going from Aleppo to most villages and towns in the countryside surrounding northern Aleppo, was targeted on 2-11-2013.

Imad Syrian adds, “The antiaircraft weapons owned by Opposition battalions cannot shoot the helicopters down since these usually fly at an altitude of several-kilometers”. He also added that most of the helicopters shelling the cities and neighborhoods of Aleppo are reported to take off from "Hama Military Airport".



Many neighborhoods of Eastern Aleppo, as well as some villages and towns to the north of the city, have been exposed to hundreds of illegal airstrikes which have horrifically massacred civilians. Martyring hundreds and wounding thousands, these massacres were a main reason for the displacement of more than 600,000 civilians. The same airstrikes also damaged more than 1400 houses, 900 of these being completely destroyed.

Some of these displaced civilians sought refuge in the countryside around Aleppo while others headed to Turkey. However, a few thousand of them went to the regime-controlled western neighborhoods, whereupon they were reported by activists to have been detained by the regime.

The regime forces’ airstrikes were most severe from the middle of December 2013 when dozens of highly populated civilian neighborhoods were targeted. During that period, many systematic airstrikes against civilian neighborhoods were recorded claiming the lives of hundreds, injuring hundreds of thousands and causing heavy losses to civilian property including houses, shops and commercial institutions.

This report covers the period between 1st November 2013 until the end of January 2014, during which VDC documented more than 266 airstrikes by the Syrian regime air force on several neighborhoods, cities and villages of Aleppo. These killed more than 1395 martyrs. 14 were members of the fighting battalions and more than 1380 were civilians, including 441 children and 78 women.

As noted earlier, it was the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo that suffered most of the 64 massacres caused by the regime forces’ "explosive barrels and containers filled with explosive materials". Here, more than 1200 martyrs fell, including 366 children and 156 women. In more than 152 airstrikes, the regime air force dropped more than 305 barrels, more than 125 of which were recorded in December 2013, and more than 132 of which were recorded in January 2014. Only four barrels that were dropped did not explode.

Only seven non-civilians died in these airstrikes, while the rest of the casualties were local citizens. It should be noted that these numbers are not final; they may increase due to the great numbers of wounded. Hundreds of serious cases were taken to hospitals in Turkey or near the Turkish borders, these hospitals being much better equipped to receive such cases than the medical points and field hospitals in the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, which lack the necessary medical equipment and the capacity to accommodate such huge numbers.

In cooperation with several activists, doctors and nurses, VDC could estimate the number of casualties during the last three months. All those with whom VDC has conducted interviews confirmed that Aleppo is targeted every day by explosive barrels. The casualties are being moved to ten medical points, hospitals and dispensaries, each of which fills up every day despite having the capacity to receive at least 60 cases. More than 20 of these cases are critical ones, while others die as soon as they reach the medical point. Among these hospitals, only four are equipped to perform surgeries. It is a tragic situation. During November 2013 to January 2014 alone, there have been more than 20,000 thousand casualties, many of them were women and children.


Pictures of casualties received at Sakhour neighborhood’s medical point on 22-12-2013



The Methodology:

This report draws upon the testimonies of eyewitnesses, field and media activists and survivors, in addition to doctors and nurses who received hundreds of casualties. It also analyzes tens of videos and photos of the attacks that were taken by media activists, as well as hundreds of reports about the destruction and massacres that followed every attack on the city or the villages of Aleppo, especially in the countryside to the north of Aleppo. The report shows the time of every attack and the demographic status of each affected district, in terms of population and the status of opposition military forces in these districts.


The Explosive Barrels and Containers:

Ahmad al-Hamoud, Vice Commander of Ahfad Hamza Battalion for Special Missions, al-Sultan al-Fatih Brigade, told VDC that many kinds of the barrel bombs used by the regime forces had been recognizable. These included:

1- Regular Russian-made Barrels. These are believed to have been used by the Russian Army in the middle of the previous century. They were brought from Russia 'ready to use'. The regime has owned them for decades. Their weight ranges between 300 to 500 kg and they're filled with TNT and metallic scraps. There're extremely destructive, yet their range is more limited than that of the other kinds.

2- Medium Destruction Barrels. These are believed to be made by the regime in 'Defense Factories' in al-Safira, in the Valley of al-Waha. Most of the helicopters taking off from this valley dropped these barrels on the districts of Aleppo. The weight of these barrels ranges from 400 to 500 kg.

3- Highly Destructive Barrels. These are the most dangerous and destructive of all. Weighing more than 600 kg, they take many shapes like containers, cisterns and, in some cases, green rubbish containers.

Al -Hamoud added that Russian-made Barrel Bombs have a fan at the bottom of the barrel which makes it relatively precise, whereas the other kinds are dropped indiscriminately for the sake of killing and destroying. The regime stopped using the first kind months ago; all the recent attacks on the villages and cities of Aleppo were done using Medium Destruction Barrels and Highly Destructive Barrels.

The shapes of the barrels were shown in many pictures taken by activists. One of these pictures, published by Aleppo News Channel, shows an unexploded barrel that was dropped on a park near Qadi Askar-Al Mayser Road on 28-11-2013. This picture was supported with a video published by activists, which is believed to have captured the same barrel as the one in the picture. The video shows the nature of the explosive material inside the barrel and the thickness of the iron used.


The Deliberately Indiscriminate Attacks that Claimed the Lives of Hundreds:


First: During November 2013:

This month witnessed the fall of 145 civilian martyrs due to barrel attacks, 46 of whom were children and 27 of whom were women.

The first attack was on 1 Nov 2013 as the regime forces targeted Tal Aran in al-Safira; three houses were destroyed in addition to the fall of one martyr. The second attack was on 14 Nov 2013; a massacre was carried out by the regime in Ebtin Village in the countryside to the south of Aleppo. There were more than 25 casualties and 15 civilian martyrs, 9 of whom were children. The third attack was on 17 Nov 2013, in al-Jazmati Square, which was targeted by a barrel. In this attack 2 people were martyred, more than 10 were wounded and five houses were destroyed. The fourth attack was on Soran in Izaz City on 21 Nov 2013 when six martyrs fell immediately. The fifth attack was on 23 Nov 2013 in Tadef in al-Bab City when 8 martyrs fell and more than five houses were destroyed.


Al-Halwania Square Massacre:

On 23 Nov 2013, the regime committed a massacre in Tariq al-Bab District, near al-Halwania Square; the number of martyrs was more than 25, four of them "unidentified" as they were torn up into pieces. It's well known that this district is a very crowded one as there is a market and a bus station, from which the buses goes to many areas in the northern Aleppo Countryside like al-Bab, Tadif and many others. According to eyewitnesses, two barrels were dropped; the first was near Al-Halwania Square and the second was 1 km away from the first, on an eastern district of Aleppo called Karm al-Beik.



Jihad Halabi, an activist and a member of Aleppo Municipal Council, said that the attack was at noon when the area was bound to be highly crowded. He added:


"I was only 50m away from the target of the first barrel in Al-Halwania Square. A few minutes later, I went to the strike location. There was so much dust and there were so many people burning. One building was completely destroyed and more than 20 others were partially damaged. Tens of martyrs and casualties were lying on the ground as the street is more like a market and full of hawkers. It's well known that there are more than 100 hundred street vegetables sellers and a station of minibuses in the area. 6 minutes later, a second barrel was dropped nearby; we rushed to the place to find massive destruction of civilian houses, three of which were completely destroyed. That was in addition to the fall of another 7 martyrs.


Jihad confirmed that there is no military presence in either of the two targeted locations, both civilian areas being deliberately targeted.


In November, deliberately indiscriminate attacks by regime forces on the most crowded civilian areas continued; at the same day when al-Halwania Square was hit, 9 martyrs and many casualties fell when a charitable society in the city of al-Bab was targeted. The eighth strike was in al-Safira on 29 Nov 2013, where 4 martyrs of civilians fell. The ninth and tenth strikes were in Qadi Askar District on 28 Nov 2013, where more than 15 martyrs fell - 12 of them were from the district itself and the rest were from nearby. Among the martyrs, there was a lady with her two sons and a pregnant woman, in addition to many children. On that same day, 4 barrels were dropped on Deir Hafir in the countryside near Aleppo, killing 5 civilians.


Al-Halwania Square, a few minutes after the attack on 23 Nov 2013. The photo was taken by activist Jihad al-Halabi




Al-Bab Massacre:

The last two strikes in November were on the 31st, when the regime's forces committed two horrible massacres in al-Bab City. al-Bab is one of the biggest and most important cities in the of the vicinity of Aleppo, only 38km away from the center of Aleppo itself. The regime air force dropped an 'explosive container' on a market at midday. A few hours later, another 'container' was dropped on a poor district in the northern area of al-Bab. That day, VDC could document 30 martyrs, among them eight woman and three children.


Activist Marwan A (22 years), a member of al-Bab Coordination told the VDC that the regime’s strikes increased soon after its forces had regained Brigade 80, which had been under the rule of many rebellious factions, particularly al-Tawheed Brigade. These strikes led to the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians to Turkey and to villages nearby, which already contain thousands of displaced people from other cities like Homs. The population of the city before the last movement of displacement was 200,000, having been 300,000 before the revolution began in 2011.


Regarding the two massacres, Marwan said, "Around 12:30, I was taking photos somewhere in the city when a helicopter dropped an explosive-laden 'container', which is different from the barrel as it's bigger, near the Municipality Building and the market. The container fell amid a very crowded street. I rushed to the place to find tens of charred bodies and carnages. There were more than 20 martyrs and 30 casualties which later caused difficulties in hospitals and medical points.


The second strike was at 03:30 pm; it was near our office and it was so strong that we thought it was in our building. We rushed out to find out that a barrel was dropped amid the poor neighbourhoods south of the city. It affected a 500 sq. meter area, completely destroyed 5 buildings and partially damaged ten others. More than 10 martyrs and 20 casualties fell, many of them were of al-Sukar Family as the barrel fell on their house.


Marwan added that neither of the two places had any military presence; that they are purely civilian and that all the casualties were civilians.


Al-Bab City 30 Nov 2013


On the 1st of Dec 2013, the barrels continued to be dropped, and the regime's forces committed a massacre against Aleppo civilians by hitting a crowded market. VDC documented 31 martyrs from this attack. Just one of them was armed; the other 30 were civilians, 7 of them children and 2 of them women. There were also 55 casualties.


Regarding this massacre that happened at the rush hour, activist Marwan said

Regarding this massacre that happened at the rush hour, activist Marwan said:

"The Helicopter was couple of kilometres high; it was clearly visible to the naked eye. This was at around 12 pm, which is the rush hour in the markets. The barrel fell on an old market that contains many wholesale and watch shops, in addition to food shops that sell rice, lentils, sugar and other food.

Once we had got there we found out that fire had engulfed many shops, causing them to collapse over peoples’ heads as the shops were old and shaky. The shelling also destroyed a mosque and 'Kahat Bakery'. It was difficult for the winches to enter because the streets are not wide enough. We could hear the voices of people stuck under the rubbles. Casualties and charred bodies filled the place.


Al-Bab City 1 Dec 2013


Second: During December 2013:

December 2013 was the bloodiest month in terms of number of martyrs, due to a series of explosive 'barrel'-borne massacres. VDC could document more than 631 martyrs, only four of whom were armed; the rest were all civilians (138 of them boys, 59 of them girls and 63 of them women). As usual, there were many civilian injuries, too. The most violent massacres were those that took place on 15, 16, 17 December, when tens of barrels were dropped on the eastern districts of Aleppo causing massive destruction and a huge number of casualties.

As we mentioned above, the strikes started in al-Bab City in the northern countryside. We preferred to talk about this massacre directly after the first massacre in the city on 30 Nov 2013. In terms of enumerations, however, the martyrs of this massacre were included in the enumerations of December. After that, there was a massacre against 7 civilians of 'Aloosh Family' on 6 Dec 2013 in the Village of al-Owaija. That same day, 25 people were massacred in Bazaa, near the City of al-Bab, involving when the city was raided with four air strikes, two of which used 'explosive containers' at the time of Holy Friday prayers. More than 10 houses were leveled to the ground and tens of civilians were injured.

On 7 Dec 2013, an explosive barrel was dropped by Air Forces on the Village of al-Widahi in just outside Aleppo causing the death of 5 civilians. The very next day, another barrel was dropped on the area between Bab al-Nayrab and al-Hawooz Square killing more than 10 civilians.

On 14 Dec 2013, there were many raids carried out by Air Forces as 5 barrels were dropped on the neighborhoods of al-Ashrafia, Karm al-Mayser, Masakin Hanano and the highway between al-Sakhour and al-Haidarya in Eastern Aleppo. The result was more than15 martyrs, all of them civilians, in addition to tens of casualties and massive destruction to infrastructure.


Massacres of mid December 2013

The days of 15, 16 and 17 of Dec 2013 have witnessed the bloodiest massacres in Aleppo since the beginning of the revolution. More than 100 barrels were dropped on the eastern districts of Aleppo by the regimes air forces, killing 190 civilians in 24 massacres.

Sunday 15 Dec 2013:

During this day, more than 15 barrels were dropped on the city causing 9 massacres in the neighbourhoods of al-Ard al-Hamra, al-Saliheen, al-Marja, al-Ansari, al-Shaar, Tariq al-Bab, al-Sakhour, al-Fardos and al-Haydaria Square. VDC could document the names of more than 100 martyrs, 99 of whom were civilians (26 of them boys, 8 of them girls and 10 of them women).

Fadi, a member of Aleppo Media Center, who lives in al-Ard al-Hamra District, said to VDC that the district was targeted with explosive barrels despite the fact that it’s a poor and old district with very fragile infrastructure. He said that 10 houses were completely destroyed and tens of other houses were partially damaged as all the houses of the district are adjacent to one another. He also added:

“There were many martyrs under the debris, but we couldn't get them out and there were more than 50 casualties. The situation was extremely tragic."

Abu Ali, an eye witness from al-Marja neighborhood, confirmed that he counted as 9 barrels were dropped on his district. He added:

“They started shelling our district at 11:45 am and continued until 03:30 pm. The first barrels were near the Media Centers, another one was on the district park. Some other barrels fell on the police station'. That day, we could count more than 30 destroyed houses. Tens of martyrs were under the rubbles, but we couldn't remove their bodies. The medical points in the area were full of casualties. It was total chaos."


Al-Sakhour 15 Dec 2013


Monday 16 Dec 2013:

Seven strikes were carried out on the districts of al-Inzarat, Dhaheret Awada, Qadi Asker, al-Qaterji, al-Shaar and Saif al-Dawla. During these strikes, 9 barrels filled with explosive materials were dropped causing many massacres, the biggest of which was in al-Intharat, in Masakin Hanano, as one of the barrels fell on a wall of 'Taiba School' killing 15 civilians, among them 5 children and 2 teachers.

Mahmod al-Haji Saleh, an eye witness from Masakin Hanano, stated the following to VDC:

“Around 10:00 am, 'Taiba Elementary School' was targeted and its wall was massively damaged; more than 10 were killed, most of them students. The houses nearby were also damaged, including my house. My wife was injured.”

This testimony was identical to that of 'Abu Oqba al-Halabi', another eyewitness who stated the following to VDC:

"On Monday around 10:00, during school hours, a barrel was dropped on the quadrangle of the school, near the wall, which was completely destroyed. Many students, teachers, and, civilians who happened to be in the area were killed and many students were injured too.”


Tuesday 17 Dec 2013:

This day is the bloodiest in terms of the total of martyrs, massacres and barrels dropped on the neighborhoods of Aleppo. VDC could document more than 105 martyrs, all of whom were civilian. Among them were 28 boys, 6 girls and 5 women. 11 barrels were dropped causing more than 10 massacres and massive destruction. Hundreds of civilians were injured too.

The explosive barrels targeted more than 10 neighbourhoods including: al-Mashad, al-Shaar, Karm al-Jazmati, Dhaheret Awada, Tariq al-Bab, and al-Maadi, in addition to the neighbourhoods adjacent to al-Hilwania Square, Zabdieh, and al-Bab City in the suburbs and immediate vicinity of Aleppo.

The massacre of al-Shaar was the cruelest as one of the barrels was dropped on a six-floor building, levelling it to the ground and causing massive destruction to adjacent houses and shops. VDC could document more than 27 martyrs and dozens of casualties.

Media activist Jihad al-Halabi, who checked the targeted area immediately after the attack, said to VDC:

"The targeted area is highly populated and the regime force deliberately dropped the barrel during a rush hour, between 08:45 and 09:00 am. Fifteen minutes after the attack, I went to the area to find a building leveled to the ground completely. This building is adjacent to an institution and Abu Raqba Bakery. Fortunately, the institution was nearly empty; otherwise, it would have been a more horrible massacre. The number of martyrs and casualties was very high as there is a fruit market and a bus station in the area, in addition to the fact that this area is an inevitable crossing point for buses going to the western area of Aleppo.”


Activist Jihad confirmed that there was no military presence in the area. He said:

“Five months ago, a battalion set up a checkpoint of three men in the neighbourhood but they left months ago; thus, the targeted place is merely civilian”


Al-Sha’ar 17 Dec 2013

Al-Maadi 17 Dec 2013


Air raids on Aleppo and its eastern neighborhoods didn't stop after that date. On 20 Dec 2013, more than 15 martyrs fell as a result of barrel raids on neighbourhoods like al-Sukari and Tariq al-Bab, as well as on al-Bab in the countryside.


A nurse, who refused to introduce her name for security reasons, said to VDC that the medical point in which she worked, received more than ten amputation cases on that day. She added:

"The point had already had about 80 casualties from the previous days, 75% of them children and women. All the cases we received on 20 Dec were so critical that we had to transfer them to Turkish hospitals immediately."


*The Massacres of Sunday 22 Dec 2013 in Masakin Hanano and Al-Sakhour Neighbourhoods:

People in these neighbourhoods woke up to the sounds of new explosions and 'death barrels' falling on Masakin Hanano - al-Sakhour Highway, and al-Ahmadia District near al-Jomaa Market, killing and injuring tens of civilians. A big (Pullman) bus happened to be passing through the targeted area during the incident; most of the passengers were killed. A few minutes after that a helicopter, probably the same one, dropped 4 barrels on Al-Sakhour causing another massacre and massive destruction.

VDC documented more than 95 martyrs, most of whom were from Masakin Hanano, al-Ahmadia District while the rest were from al-Sakhour neighborhood. More than ten houses were destroyed in al-Ahmadia District. Many other houses were destroyed in al-Sakhour District, too. All documented martyrs were civilians, among them were 9 boys, 4 girls and 10 women.

Dr. Diaa al-Abdullah said to VDC that the medical point he works in received lots of cases, among them 4 children and 5 women from al-Sakhour neighbourhood. Other cases were also received from al-Ahmadia neighbourhood, two of them children. In the medical point, there was an acute shortage of apparatus and cadres. The other medical points also received hundreds of similar cases.

Jihad al-Halabi, an activist and a member of Aleppo Local Council, who usually accompanies Civil Defence cadre to check the massacres, confirmed that the neighbourhood was hit by a ‘vacuum missile' before the barrel was dropped. He added:

""Air Forces attacked Masakin Hanano in the morning with a ‘vacuum missile' to be followed by a barrel at 12:30 pm near al-Jomaa Market. As the area was so crowded, the number of martyrs and casualties was very high; more than 40 martyrs fell that day in addition to tens of casualties. A bus that happened to be in the area was destroyed and most of its 15 passengers were killed on the spot. Regarding al-Sakhour neighborhood, at 12:30 pm, four barrels were dropped on the district by the same helicopter that struck Masakin Hanano. Another barrel was dropped on al-Ard al-Hamra neighbourhood, where more than 10 civilians lost their lives. I have been to both places and seen the damages myself."


Masakin Hanano, al-Ahmadia neighbourhood, 22 Dec 2013 - the remnant of a building destroyed by a 'Death Barrel'

The Dispensary of al-Sakhour neighbourhood, 22 Dec 2013


Monday 23 Dec 2013, the Massacre of al-Marja Neighbourhood:

A testimony of a survivor of al-Marja massacre to VDC:

"The street became very dark; the buildings were falling on us. We heard the voice of a little girl shouting 'get us out of here'. We followed the voice and got her out along with her family. The barrel was dropped on the 'Wax Market' and there were more than 50 martyrs or casualties, most of whom were children."

That day, when ‘explosive barrels’ were dropped in al-Marja neighborhood, VDC could document more than 75 martyrs, among them were 21 boys, 10 girls and 8 women. The Al-Marja bombing, however, was not the only one that day; two more barrels were dropped, one on al-Harabla District and another on a building that belongs to the 'al-Wawi Family'.


Thursday 24 Dec 2013, the Massacre of al-Sukari Neighbourhood:

This massacre, hitting the eastern districts, was the penultimate barrel massacre in Aleppo during the period concerned. VDC could document 45 martyrs who were felled that day by a series of strikes on the areas of Owais Mosque, al-Ekhlas Mosque, al-Wakalat St and al-Albisa St. Eyewitnesses said that one of the raids was near the vegetables market and there were dozens of casualties in addition to massive destruction of infrastructure.


The Massacres of 28 Dec 2013:


*Tariq al-Bab and Karm al-Mayser:

The two massacres in Tariq al-Bab and Karm al-Mayser neighborhoods were the final ones. On 31 Dec 2013, however, the Syrian regime forces targeted a civilian bus in al-Hilwania Square with a mortar missile and all the passengers were killed. Added to the martyrs in the street, the final death toll from that attack was 30 martyrs.

In Tariq al-Bab massacre, a barrel dropped by air forces killed 20 martyrs, 4 of them were children.

In Karm al-Mayser neighborhood, VDC documented 17 martyrs due to the barrel that was dropped near al-Rashidin Mosque.

Imad al-Masri, an eyewitness, described the first moments following the massacre of Tariq al-Bab:

“I was at home at about ten o'clock in the morning when I heard the sound of a rocket falling down from the sky. A few seconds later, there was a massive explosion near my house. I went out immediately to see what had happened. Cars and people were rushing toward the vegetables market, which was very crowded at that time of day. Then, I went immediately to where the barrel fell, which was near al-Halawaniah, west of the vegetable market.

When I arrived, I saw carnage all over the place. More than 15 people died as a result of the barrel, some others had lost their limbs. One of the bodies had lost his head. Because there were no ambulances, people had to hospitalize the injured by small Suzuki cars. There were also several completely burnt cars and many damaged buildings including Abeer Sasila Maternity Hospital. Later, I got to know that activist Ahmed Hajji was among the martyrs.”


Martyr Ahmed Hajji





Third: During January 2014


Killing and Displacing People of Aleppo…

The Displacement of Hundreds of Thousands from Eastern Aleppo…

January 2014 was one of the worst months for the people of Aleppo. Not only were there 17-plus massacres, in which explosive barrels used by the regime claimed the lives of at least 424 civilians including 85 boys, 38 girls, and 66 women; the 140-plus 140 barrels dropped in these attacks completely destroyed at least 670 homes and displaced tens of thousands of people from different areas of Eastern Aleppo. Many activists have estimated the number of displaced people during November ’13 through January ‘14 at more than 350,000people, the overwhelming number of whom were displaced during January 2014.


Activist Imad Syrian told VDC that more than 22,000 families were displaced from Sha’ar neighborhood alone, while the majority of the displaced were from Masakin Hanano neighborhood which witnessed an unprecedented displacement movement. According to Imad, more than 200,000people fled Masakin Hanano. Meanwhile Abu al-Majd, one of the field activists in Mayser neighborhood, estimated the number at 60,000 people, most of whom went to the countryside of Aleppo.


Airstrikes during January:

01/01/14 witnessed the first massacre of this month when 30 martyrs fell in several neighborhoods of Aleppo including al-Sukari neighborhood, which witnessed a horrific massacre by regime forces uses explosive barrels to kill 20 civilians. One of those barrels was dropped on Masakin Hanano, while another was dropped on Sheik Najjar neighborhood claiming the lives of five civilians. A third barrel fell on Kafr Sgheir Village killing three civilians, and a forth fell on Deir Jamal killing one civilian.


On 02/01/2014, a barrel fell on Sakhour neighborhood but caused no loss of life.


The second massacre happened on 06/01/2014, the town of Bazaah in the countryside of Aleppo where an explosive barrel fell near a school, killing 17 civilians. By the end of that day, no less than six barrels had fallen on the town.

Muhammad, an eyewitness from the same town, said that the first barrels fell on the town less than fifteen minutes after clashes between members of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (“Daash”) and brigades of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). He added:


“Six barrels were dropped. There were two helicopters, each of which dropped three barrels. The first barrel fell at the town borders near a farm, so the damage was limited to property. The second barrel fell near “Ahmad Na’asan al-Sheikh School”, about 500 meters from the first barrel, causing the death of several civilians and significant damage to machinery including a truck. The third and the fourth barrels fell near the Grand Mosque at the town center, pecifically on the house of Al –Akhras Family, which led to the fall of many martyrs and complete destruction of the house. As for the fifth and the sixth barrels, they fell near Hasoun Family's Bakery causing the destruction of several buildings, in addition to several martyrs and casualties, the most critical of which were hospitalized in Turkey."


Sha’ar Neighborhood—December 2013


The seventh of January witnessed a continuous bombardment by the regime using explosive barrels on areas such as ​​Sheikh Najjar. Particularly affected was the Industrial Zone, an airstrike against which killed more than ten, including one al-Khudr Family (the father, the mother and their four children) who had previously been displaced from Masakin Hanano. On the same day, another airstrike was launched against al-Saliheen neighborhood claiming the lives of seven people. Consequently, the number of martyrs of that day amounted to 17.


*Al-Bab Massacre: 12-1-2011

“During the clashes between the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (“Daash”) and brigades of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), specifically at 7:00 am, a helicopter dropped a barrel on a very crowded market in al-Bab city called "Novoteh Market" causing dozens of casualties and the complete destruction of a building.

The second barrel fell on al-Masari Alley near the combat line between the fighters. However, all the martyrs were civilians. We hurried to the place, where bodies were scattered everywhere. There were about 50 casualties in addition to a child whose limbs were cut off. Trying to save the injured was dramatic for lack of means to help; people were using their bare hands to reach those who were trapped under the debris . Ambulances were slow to arrive for fear of being kidnapped by “Daash”.


The testimony of activist Marwan A. to VDC

"On that day, VDC documented 29 martyrs who died by those attacks. Among them were five boys, two girls and eleven women."



* The Fiercest Attacks during January:

Aleppo witnessed the fiercest attacks on 18/01/2014 and 19/01/2014 when more than 130 citizens were martyred. Then, the regime forces showered many areas with explosive barrels to massacre civilians.


On 18/01/2014, more than 70 civilians were killed by regime attacks on Aleppo neighborhoods. The barrel fell on the neighborhoods of Sakhour, Masakin Hanano, Karm al-Mayser (near Afar Mosque), Tariq al-Bab (near al-Kifah School and on al-Joura district), Bab al-Nayrab, Karm al-Nahhas, al-Bab city in the countryside of Aleppo, Al-Marjeh district, near al-Hawooz Square in Qadi Asqar neighborhood and many other places. Fifteen explosive barrels were dropped on that day.


On 19/01/14, civilians and their properties continued to be bombarded, with more than sixty people massacred. Most of these martyrs fell in Karm al-Mayser neighborhood, on which five barrels were dropped. Other barrels fell on the road between the Eastern neighborhood of al-Ansari and Zebdieh neighborhood, in al-Ansari neighborhood itself, al-Marjeh, Karm al-Tarab, al-Ard al-Hamra, Masakin Hanano, al-Manasher district in Sheikh Najjar, Banan al-Hes Village, Barda Village and Tal al-Damman in the southern countryside, al-Hader Village, Karm al-Jazmati and Bab al-Neirab. Another barrel fell on al-Fardos neighborhood, but did not explode. 21 barrels were dropped on that day, excluding 3 others that did not explode.

Al-Fardos Neighborhood 19-1-2014: A barrel that did not explode


Regarding the attacks of January 2014, Jihad Halabi, a member of civil defense, stated:


“Every day Aleppo witnesses several massacres. Martyrs outnumber paramedics and rescuers. Each area is bombarded by several barrels daily, sometimes by more than 10 barrels. All these barrels target purely civilian locations. There is an acute shortage of equipment and tools, and the destruction is beyond the capacity of civil defense teams, who nonetheless work work 247. We cannot cover all the areas that are being targeted, so we sometimes have to divide the team into smaller groups in order to reach them all. Most of the rescuing is done by hand due to a lack of the requisite equipment. The degree of damage varies from one neighborhood to another. For example, Karm al-Mayser is 70% destroyed as many buildings are cracked and likely to collapse at any moment. This has prompted to a huge wave of displacement. For example, 95% of Karm al-Mayser’s population has fled the neighborhood.”


*The Massacres during January

The daily massacres in Aleppo did not stop for the last 10 days of January, during which time dozens of barrels kept showering the civilian houses. These killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands of them. During those 10 days, VDC documented more than 203 martyrs due to air bombardment involving mainly explosive barrels targeted at several eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo such as al-Mashhad neighborhood. Massacre after massacre has been committed against civilians.


Abbas Qabbani, a resident of the aforementioned neighborhood said the following about the bombardment on 31/1/2014:


"The shelling of the neighborhood started at about nine in the morning. On that day, the regime aircraft dropped more than 14 barrels and vacuum rockets, all of which targeted civilian buildings. Two of the barrels did not explode. In the building where I live, four civilians (a father and his three daughters) were killed when the last floor was shelled. Because the civil defense teams arrived late as a result of the large number of areas targeted by the regime aircraft, this family could not be saved. This also forced the residents to run away, especially to the countryside. A few others fled to Turkey. "


VDC in Syria conducted an interview with a member of the statistics team in one of the field hospitals in Aleppo, who refused to reveal his name. He reported:

"Most of the cases received at the hospital result from the regime forces’ military operations. Those cases are either shrapnel or airstrike injuries. The hospital has many specialties including general, bone and vascular surgeries. As for the critical injuries, especially head injuries, they are transferred into Turkey.

During the recent attacks we received more than 60 cases every day, not to mention those who died as soon as they got to the hospital. Moreover, every three patients were being taken to the operation room together, while the less serious cases were being treated in the waiting room due to the lack of space.

Sometimes the orthopedicdoctor had to operate nine surgeries a day, especially in cases of massacres. With one case in 60 requiring amputation, there are cases of amputation every day. Injuries among children and women vary, but we can certainly say that more than 20% of the injuries are inflicted on women and children. There is a shortage in the availability of blood bags, but we are trying to obtain additional ones through daily calls to donors."


Masakin Hanano December 2013


Conclusion and a Legal Opinion:

The Legal Advisors that cooperate with VDC state the following:

1. Applicable Law

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has concluded that the situation in Syria is a non-international armed conflict since July 2012[1]. This has not been contested by the Syrian government or by any other international organization concerned with the situation in Syria.

Accordingly, the rules of international law are fully applicable, particularly the international human rights law and the relevant rules of international humanitarian law.

In particular, Article 3 - common to the four Geneva Conventions (1949) - is applicable in all Syrian territories and to all actors of the conflict. Article 3 states:

“In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed ' hors de combat ' by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. [….].”[2]

In addition, all parties to the conflict are bound by customary rules of international humanitarian law applicable to armed conflict of non-international character.

2. Distinction

The principle according to which “parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants” is the cornerstone of customary international humanitarian law. Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians.[3] This principle is also embedded in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions (1949), and is thus applicable in domestic armed conflicts.

In addition, parties to all types of armed conflicts are prohibited in international humanitarian law from targeting civilian objects.[4] Many international treaties, military manuals, relevant case law, and consistent state practice converge in defining civilian objects negatively, as those “which by their nature, location, purpose or use do not make effective contribution to military action.”[5]

The practice of States consistently confirmed this principle and provided some specifications of objects and places that were considered civilian. For instance, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2675 (XXV), specified that “dwellings and other installations that are used only by civilian populations,” and “places or areas designated for the sole protection of civilians such as hospital zones or similar refuges,” should not be the object of military operations.[6] This resolution was adopted by an overwhelming majority of States with a summary vote of 109 affirmative, 8 abstentions and no against votes.[7] The ICRC restatement of customary international humanitarian law cited consistent State practice treating as prima facie civilian objects in all types of conflicts “cities, villages, residential areas, dwellings, buildings and houses and schools, civilian means of transportation, hospitals, medical establishments and medical units, historic monuments, places of worship and cultural property.”[8]

The prohibition on targeting civilian populations and objects in armed conflicts affects the way the parties to an armed conflict can conduct the hostilities and the types of weapons they can use. In particular, indiscriminate attacks are prohibited in all types of conflicts.

Rule 12 of the ICRC restatement of customary international humanitarian law provides the following definition for indiscriminate attacks supported by consistent practice:

“Indiscriminate attacks are those:

(a) which are not directed at a specific military objective;

(b) which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or

(c) which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by international humanitarian law; and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.”[9]

3. The Incidents Documented in the Report Constitute Attacks on Civilian Populations


This report documents dozen of attacks by the Assad regime’s air force that took place between November and January 2014.

The areas targeted in all the attacks are by nature, location and purpose civilian from the perspective of the applicable international humanitarian law.

More specifically, all of the attacks targeted densely populated dwellings in urban neighborhoods and villages. In many instances, the targeted areas were neighborhoods in which citizens regularly gather.

For example, on 23/11/2013, the attack on Triq al-Bāb neighborhood near al Jazmatīyah road targeted an area usually frequented by street vendors selling vegetables and other household needs. This crowded area also serves as an important hub for private and public micro buses.

On 30/11/2013, the attack on the town of al-Bāb targeted a densely populated residential neighborhood, and a market trading of watches and other items such as rice and lentils. Eyewitness testimonies documented in the report mentioned that this attack caused the destruction of a nearby mosque and a bakery.

The attack on 16/12/2013, on the Intharāt neighborhood part of Masakin Hanano district, hit the wall of a primary school [for children with special needs], resulting in the death of five pupils and two teachers.

The overwhelming majority of casualties of all these attacks are civilians. In November 2013, the attacks resulted in 145 civilian casualties including 46 child and 27 women. The same can be reported about the casualties of attacks of December 2013. The Violations Documentation Center documented 595 dead, only three of whom were combatants. There were 195 children and 62 women killed in these attacks.

4. These Attacks are “Indiscriminate”

The attacks documented in this report do form a pattern of attacking civilian places and populations. The consistency with which densely populated areas have been targeted makes it more likely that the regime air force was not directing the attack on any specific military objective. This is further confirmed by the fact that only three of the 595 casualties of the December 2013 attacks documented in this report were combatants. .

The indiscriminate character of the attacks is also evident from the type of weapons used. According to available information, barrel bombs are improvised, and unguided. Their design, as described earlier in this report, is improvised to produce the highest explosive impact and to maximize the harm it causes to people and objects. Bombarding densely populated residential areas, with improvised unguided munitions is a “method of combat which cannot be directed at specific military objectives.”

The ICRC study made a very strong case that the rule according to which “the use of weapons which are by nature indiscriminate is prohibited” in non-international armed conflicts, is part of customary international law.[10] It is thus binding on all parties to the armed conflict in Syria.

5. The Attacks Documented in this Report are War Crimes

According to Customary International Humanitarian Law10, indiscriminate attacks on civilians are serious violations of International Humanitarian Law.[11] They accordingly constitute war crimes,[12] criminal responsibility for which rests with the individual commanders who gave the orders for such attacks, as well as anyone who has committed or facilitated the attacks, and anyone who has assisted, aided or abetted them.


The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court makes it a war crime, in the context of a non-international armed conflict, to “intentionally direct attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities” (article 8 §2 (e) (ii)).


In a great number of cases, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted war criminals for the indiscriminate bombing of the civilian population, stating that the “indiscriminate character of the weapon used” is conclusive evidence of a “direct attack on civilians”.[13]

6. The Attacks Documented in this Report are Likely to Constitute Crimes against Humanity


The attacks documented in this report are likely to constitute crimes against humanity as defined by the case law of international criminal tribunals and article 7 of the Rome Statute.


Firstly, the killing of civilians in violation of international humanitarian law (see above) constitutes “murder” i.e. one of the underlying offences of crimes against humanity.


Secondly, the multiplicity of such murders documented in this report indicate a more general “attack against the civilian population”, which is the contextual condition for crimes against humanity.[14]


This attack against the civilian population seems to exhibit – in itself – both a “widespread” and a “systematic” character, thereby reaching the level of a crime against humanity. The scale of the attacks documented in this report, including the number of deaths resulting from them, confer to it a widespread character[15]. Its systematic character can be inferred, notably, from the source of all attacks documented in this report: the Syrian air force, which suggests high-level planning and use of public resources. This also indicates that the attacks documented in the report all pursue the same objective, namely the destruction, persecution or – at the very least – weakening of a particular group of people: the civilian population living in non-government-controlled areas in Aleppo and its surroundings[16].


Accordingly, the bombing campaign carried out by the Syrian air force and documented in this report constitutes in itself a widespread and/or systemic attack against the civilian population. Every single death arising from this campaign constitutes a murderous crime against humanity.






For any questions and comments:


to view our previous reports:






[1] Syria: ICRC and Syrian Arab Red Crescent maintain aid effort amid increased fighting, Operational Update (July 17, 2012). Retrieved January 3, 2014, from http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/update/2012/syria-update-2012-07-17.htm.

[2] The Syrian Arab Republic ratified the four Geneva Conventions on 02.11.1953.

[3] ICRC 2005, Customary International Humanitarian Law, vol. 1, Henckaerts, J.-M., Doswald-Beck, L., & Alvermann, C. eds. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, at p. 3 (Rule 1).

[4] Id., at p. 25 (Rule 7).

[5] Id., at p. 29 (Rule 8).

[6] Resolution 2675 (XXV). Basic Principles for the Protection of Civilian Populations in Armed Conflicts (December 9 1970), UN, General Assembly. Retrieved October, 2013, from http://www.un.org/documents/resga.htm.

[7] United Nations, General Assembly, Official Records, 25th Session: 1922nd Plenary Meeting (Wednesday, December 9, 1970), UN Doc. A/P.V. 1922 (1970), at p. 12.

[8] ICRC 2005, Customary International Humanitarian Law, at p. 34 (footnotes omitted).

[9] Id., at p. 40.

[10] ICRC 2005, Customary International Humanitarian Law, vol. 1, at p. 244-250 (Rule 71).

[11] Id., at p. 599.

[12] Id., at p. 568 (Rule 156).

[13] ICTY, Prosecutor v. Milan Martić, Trial Chamber Judgment (2007), § 472. See also ICTY, Prosecutor v. Tihomir Blaškić, Trial Chamber Judgment (2000), § 512 and ICTY, Prosecutor v. Stanislav Galić, Trial Chamber Judgment (2003), § 596.

[14] See Elements of Crime adopted by the Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court, Article 7, Introduction, § 3.

[15] See ICTY, Prosecutor v. Tihomir Blaškić, Trial Chamber Judgment (2000), § 206.

[16] See id., § 203.

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