Syria: Banned cluster bombs killing children in Aleppo

A child taking part in a vigil in Aleppo earlier this week, one month after the ceasefire collapsed.
A child taking part in a vigil in Aleppo earlier this week, one month after the ceasefire collapsed.

Illegal cluster bombs are being used widely in the battle for Aleppo according to medics and aid workers there.

136 children have been killed and 397 wounded by cluster bombs and other explosive weapons in less than a month.

Bombs that look like balls

The bombs, banned by an international treaty, are dropped from the air or fired from the ground and scatter ‘bomblets’ over a wide area – around the size of a football pitch.

The bomblets often fail to explode on impact, and are picked up by curious children.

“Usually they look like a ball or something that a child would play with,” said the head of the Organisation for Removing Explosives and Remnants of War in East Aleppo, working under the pseudonym Firas for security reasons.

“They are mines waiting to explode at any moment, stuck on roofs and windows or lying in playgrounds and parks. There are many cases of amputations in Aleppo city because of this.”

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Tearing children’s limbs off

The impact on children’s bodies can be devastating.

Surgeons say that at close range, a bomblet can tear off a child’s limbs, blind them or fracture their bones. From further away, fragments or ball bearings can embed in their bodies, usually in the muscles.

40 per cent of victims of cluster bombs around the world are children, according to Cluster Munitions Monitor. And often they’re killed or injured long after direct hostilities end.

Lack of medics

Despite ‘humanitarian pauses’ happening in Aleppo today, concerns are mounting for the increasing number of children who have already been injured by explosive weaponry.

Some are too unwell to leave, others can’t be treated by the medical facilities that have been so badly battered by bombs.

On top of that, with only an estimated 35 medics left in East Aleppo, doctors can only treat the most critical patients, so fragments such as ball bearings are reportedly often left in children.

Huge increase in cluster bombs

Reports show that there have been 137 cluster bomb attacks in Aleppo from 10 September to 10 October.

That’s a staggering 791% increase on the average of the previous 8 months.

Across Syria, 130 children have been killed due to cluster bombs alone, according to reports conducted by the Violations Documentation Centre.

Although we cannot independently verify or confirm these figures and accurate data collection is currently challenging in east Aleppo, other sources on the ground report sustained used of cluster bombs since the ceasefire collapsed on September 18th.

What we’re calling for

Sonia Khush from Save the Children said: “In Syria today, there are young children with freshly amputated limbs or ball bearings embedded in their muscle tissue because of the use of these appalling and indiscriminate weapons.

“Cluster bombs and other explosive weapons with a wide-area impact have no place in any conflict.

“There must be accountability for what’s happening to them in Aleppo. Save the Children wants to see urgent investigations launched to establish the full scale of horrific attacks perpetrated in Aleppo and the indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure.”

We’re calling for a halt to cluster munitions in any area and under any circumstance, and we’re also pushing for an end to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, because of the civilian harm it causes.

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