Amnesty International calls for blocking of arms to Islamist rebels attacking Kurds in Aleppo

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Locals searching for victims under ruins after Syrian Islamist rebels bombed the Kurdish neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsoud in Aleppo. File photo

ARA News 

ALEPPO – Amnesty International said that armed groups attacking the Kurdish neighbourhood of Sheikh Maqsoud in Aleppo since February have killed at least 83 civilians, and called on Turkey, Gulf states and others to stop the transfer of arms to the Aleppo Conquest operations room–an umbrella for Syrian Islamist rebels.

“Armed groups surrounding the Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo city have repeatedly carried out indiscriminate attacks that have struck civilian homes, streets, markets and mosques, killing and injuring civilians and displaying a shameful disregard for human life,” Amnesty said on Friday.

The organization has gathered strong evidence of serious violations from eyewitnesses, and obtained the names of at least 83 civilians, including 30 children, who were killed by attacks in Sheikh Maqsoud between February and April 2016. 

More than 700 civilians were also injured, according to the local field hospital. Video evidence shows artillery shelling, rocket and mortar attacks carried out by the Fatah Halab (Aleppo Conquest) coalition of armed Islamist groups in the area, targeting the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) controlling the district.

“The relentless pummelling of Sheikh Maqsoud has devastated the lives of civilians in the area. A wide array of armed groups from the Fatah Halab coalition has launched what appear to be repeated indiscriminate attacks that may amount to war crimes,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, interim Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

There are around 30,000 civilians living in Sheikh Maqsoud which is a predominately Kurdish part of Aleppo city.

Eyewitnesses said that the rebel groups killed civilians in their houses. According to the YPG, the neighbourhood has been continually bombed since November 2015, killing hundreds of civilians.

“There are no [military] checkpoints near my house. It is a residential street and there are even people displaced by fighting or who fled airstrikes in Aleppo city living on the same street,” Mohammed told Amnesty International, whose 18-month old daughter, his two sons, aged 15 and 10, and an eight-year old nephew were killed by a rocket on 5 April in his house, some 800 metres away from the frontline.

“The international community must not turn a blind eye to the mounting evidence of war crimes by armed opposition groups in Syria. The fact that the scale of war crimes by government forces is far greater is no excuse for tolerating serious violations by the opposition,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

Amnesty International called on Gulf states, Turkey and others believed to be providing support to armed groups in Syria to immediately block the transfer of arms to armed groups “if there is credible evidence that they carry out human rights abuses”.

“Only those groups that meet stringent reliability tests which demonstrate that they can act consistently with full respect for international human rights and humanitarian law should be considered for future supply,” Amnesty said.

Islamists Punish Kurdish Civilians

The Kurds in Sheikh Maqsoud suffer from the absence of many services as a result of the blockade imposed by Islamist rebel groups on their district, mainly by the Nusra Front (al-Qaeda branch in Syria). 

Speaking to ARA News, Luqman Ismail, one of the stranded citizens in Sheikh Maqsoud, said that electricity outage continues for nearly three years because of the barbaric bombardment led by Islamist rebels on the main network of power outside the district. 

“These groups are apparently punishing the people of Sheikh Maqsoud for their support to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), who are engaged in fighting with Islamist rebels around the city of Aleppo,” he reported.

“People now depend on power generators that work only 4-5 hours per day. We also suffer from the lack of fuel to run these generators,” Ismail added. 

Bombing Water Wells 

Sabah Alo, a 30-yrear-old woman from the Kurdish district, told ARA News that the water station had been under control of Islamists for a more than a year. “That’s why we suffer from water scarcity in the area.” 

“Also, there were two water wells on the outskirts of the neighborhood but one of them was targeted by terrorists and completely destroyed,” she said. 

“Since water’s shortage, people resorted to the movable tankers to secure clean water for drinking,” Alo told ARA News. 

Diseases Spread Among Civilians

With the approaching of summer and inability of removing the garbage out of the neighborhood, diseases spread among civilians as insects and rats filled in the place. People have appealed to the humanitarian organizations to help them receive pesticides and medicines. 

Speaking to ARA News in Sheikh Maqsoud, Laila Hamo, a Kurdish citizen, said that flies, mosquitoes and cockroaches as well as mice and rats fill the district. “Due to the blockade imposed by these barbaric groups [Islamist rebels], there is no route leading to the landfill to throw the garbage,” she said. 

Hamo pointed out that various kinds of diseases spread among civilians, including skin diseases, and bacteria received from the water tankers, appealing to the United Nations and relief organizations to hastily intervene and save people’s lives. 

On April 17, Syrian rebel groups launched indiscriminate attacks on the Kurdish neighborhood in Aleppo, killing at least 18 civilians, including seven children, five women and injured 68, Kurdish officials told Human Rights Watch.

“Islamist rebels think that they could easily take control of the Kurdish neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsoud; they must know that the Kurds do not trust the majority of Syrian opposition forces,” Khorshid Abdi, Kurdish journalist based in Aleppo, told ARA News.

“The Human Rights Watch and UN should bear their responsibility regarding Islamists-led attacks on the Kurdish residential neighborhoods in Aleppo,” he said. “Islamists must lift the siege imposed on our people in order to receive humanitarian aid, especially food and medicine.” 

“What the barbaric Islamists have done to Kurds in these five years has exceeded the regime’s suppression against them over four-decades,” he concluded.  

Reporting by: Shero Darwish and Wladimir van Wilgenburg 

Source: ARA News

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