by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria — On Thursday, March 16th, the Pentagon announced that the United States launched an airstrike into northern Syria. The target was reported as a building housing senior Al Qaeda militants, while local officials have stated that the missiles struck a mosque.
The attack, which reportedly took place at 7 p.m., killed dozens, although it is unclear at this time how many of the deceased were terrorists and how many were civilians. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (“SOHR”) stated that the demolished building was used as a center for Islam lectures, and had been affiliated with the mosque. Local officials stated that the mosque was “filled” with up to 300 people attending the evening worship. The director of the SOHR indicated that although “fighters” may have been among those that died, they had been attending a prayer service, “not fighting or preparing to fight[.]”
Photos from the site showed “bloodied people” escaping and “mangled bodies” being rescued from a “smoldering” building. The SOHR reported that some people are still missing, while others are in critical condition. The group further added that search and rescue efforts under the rubble of the destroyed building are still in process.
A local resident stated that he was having dinner at a friend’s house when he heard a loud explosion approximately five minutes before the evening prayer, after hearing planes flying fly by. He indicated that he ran out of his house and saw that the building in which Islamic lectures were held had been hit. He witnessed “four bodies lying in the street,” adding that “[t]he bodies were maimed . . . burns on the faces and the limbs.” A resident from a neighboring village noted that the damage was “overwhelming[,]” and stated that there was a “hole in the ground and bodies  filling the streets[.]”
Human Rights Watch condemned the attack, stating that the laws of armed conflict prohibit targeting civilians. The rights group added that “[a]ll feasible precautions must be taken to avoid loss of civilian life and property[,]” and that “[a]ttacks that cannot be directed at a specific military target are prohibited.” Human Rights Watch further called upon all parties to ensure adherence to the laws of war to prevent the loss of civilian life.
The attack was a stark contrast to the report released at the beginning of 2017 by the SOHR, which stated that the lowest monthly death toll in four years had been recorded in January because of the ceasefire that had significantly reduced the rate of civilian deaths. However, although violence in Syria had been showing a downward trajectory, it is now increasing at an alarming rate following last week’s attacks in the country.
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