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Entire Syrian towns razed to the ground by Assad regime: Shocking satellite images

The campaign and monitoring group Human Rights Watch has accused Syria's government of 'wiping entire neighbourhoods off the map'

By Rob Williams

A startling set of satellite images have been released showing the shocking devastation inflicted on communities that back the opposition in the Syrian civil war.

The campaign and monitoring group Human Rights Watch has accused Syria's government of "wiping entire neighbourhoods off the map" using bulldozers and explosives. In some cases entire districts have been flattened in a campaign that appears designed to punish civilians sympathetic to the opposition.

According to the 38-page report by HRW the demolitions took place between July 2012 and July 2013 in seven pro-opposition districts in and around the capital, Damascus, and the central city of Hama.

The New York-based group said the deliberate destruction violated international law, and called for an immediate end to the practice.

"Wiping entire neighbourhoods off the map is not a legitimate tactic of war," said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher for HRW. "These unlawful demolitions are the latest additions to a long list of crimes committed by the Syrian government."

Using the satellite images of the area HRW estimated that an area of 140 hectares - around 200 football fields - had been razed.

The group said that all the areas affected appeared to be opposition strongholds. The regime in Syria has claimed the demolitions, which HRW says resulted in thousands of people losing their homes, were part of urban planning efforts. HRW says there is little evidence that is the case.

The report includes satellite images of the areas before and after the demolitions, providing a shocking example of the destruction.

Buildings in the Hama neighbourhood of Masha al-Arbaeen, a wedge-shaped district bordered by highways on three sides, are clearly visible in a photo dated September 28, 2012.

In a second photo from October 13, the buildings have been pulverised into a white smudge, while the adjacent neighbourhoods remain untouched.

HRW said it based its report on 14 satellite images, interviews with 16 witnesses and owners of houses that were demolished.

"No one should be fooled by the government's claim that it is undertaking urban planning in the middle of a bloody conflict," Solvang said.

"This was collective punishment of communities suspected of supporting the rebellion. The UN Security Council should, with an ICC referral, send a clear message that cover-ups and government impunity won't stand in the way of justice for victims."

Additional reporting by AP.

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