Syrian forces ‘used’ cluster bombs in civilian areas: Human Rights Watch

Syrian government forces have dropped Russian-made cluster bombs over civilian areas in the past week as they battle to reverse rebel gains on a strategic highway, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Sunday.

The bombs were dropped from planes and helicopters, with many of the strikes taking place near the main north-south highway running through the northwestern town of Maarat al-Numan, HRW said in a report.

Rebels seized Maarat al-Numan from President Bashar al-Assad's troops last week, cutting the route from the capital Damascus to Aleppo, Syria's biggest city. The government forces have been trying to retake the area since then.

Towns targeted included Maarat, Tamanea, Taftanaz and al-Tah. Cluster bombs have also been used in other areas in Homs, Aleppo and Lattakia provinces as well as near Damascus, the New York-based rights group said.

"Syria's disregard for its civilian population is all too evident in its air campaign, which now apparently includes dropping these deadly cluster bombs into populated areas," said Steve Goose, arms director at HRW.

HRW previously reported Syrian use of cluster bombs in July and August but the renewed strikes indicate the government's determination to regain strategic control in the northwest.

Syrian government officials were not immediately available to comment on the HRW report.

Turkey bars Syrian flights

Amman: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced on Sunday that Turkey is barring Syrian civilian flights from its airspace, a day after Syria issued such a ban for Turkish commercial aircraft. He said Syria is "abusing'' civilian flights by using them to transport military equipment. AP

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