29 Incidents of Attack on Bridges, Including 15 at the Hands of the International Coalition Forces
SNHR has released a report entitled: “Deir Ez-Zour, A Limb-severed Governorate” which documents 29 incidents of attack on Deir Ez-Zour governorate bridges including 15 at the hands of international coalition governorates.
The report says that Deir Ez-Zour governorate is the second-largest Syrian governorate in area. Deir Ez-Zour strongly joined the popular uprising towards freedom in March 2011. By the end of 2013, wide parts of the governorate were out of the regime’s control. Heated clashes between armed opposition factions and ISIS followed, and ended with ISIS taking control of Deir Ez-Zour in July 2014 except for the neighborhoods of al Joura, al Qosour, and Harabesh and the governorate’s military airbase which are to this day under the control of Syrian regime forces.
The report breaks down the branches of Euphrates River that passes through the governorate and divides its eastern and western suburbs into two banks. Also, “al Khabour River”, a branch of Euphrates River, goes through its northern suburbs, in addition to a small sub-river that goes through Deir Ez-Zour city. Approximately 25 bridges were built above these rivers – 14 river bridges and 11 land bridges (Referring to a construction built over valleys).
The report notes that these bridges are the main connection used by residents to move between the towns and the villages, and the city and the suburbs, which made these bridges a target for all the conflicting parties there, especially international coalition forces and the Syrian regime.
The report draws upon daily documentation and monitoring processes, in addition to speaking with survivors, victim relatives, or eyewitnesses to the incident, where the report includes three accounts.
According to the report, the bombing and destruction of bridges, which rendered it out of commission, and ISIS and the local residents being unable to repair it have led to economic and social fallouts that affected the lives of the local residents profoundly and directly. People’s movement between the suburbs and the city was heavily restricted, as well as between the villages and the towns in the eastern and western suburbs, which, in turn, affected the economic life, and caused a noticeable stagnation in markets which impeded the civilians’ ability to secure their daily needs especially in the villages that rely on markets in al Bokamal and al Mayadin cities. Also, this affected the health sector, with hospitals and medical centers being centered in the main cities, and transferring patients and the wounded have become a complicated endeavor, particularly ambulatory cases. Local residents had to use boats to cross the river, but this led to terrifyingly high costs, not to mention that some boats had drowned.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman of SNHR, adds: “Destroying bridges in this careless manner supports ISIS’s discourse in the minds of the local residents about how the international coalition doesn’t care for their interests or about protecting them. The ramifications of destroying all of these bridges were catastrophic for the residents and their work and livelihood, especially after Deir Ez-Zour got overpopulated with many Iraqi families fleeing al Mosul. In contrast, these bombings had a limited impact on ISIS, as we didn’t record that these bridges were used regularly in military operations.”
The report documents no less than 29 incidents of attack on bridges in Deir Ez-Zour governorate between March 2011 and March 31, 2017. These incidents damaged 19 bridges. Of those, 14 bridges were rendered out of commission. All the bridges are located in ISIS-held areas.
Incidents of attack are distributed as follows: 9 incidents by Syrian regime forces, 15 incidents by international coalition forces, 2 incidents by extremist Islamic groups, and 1 incident by Russian forces. In addition, two incidents were recorded at the hands of other parties who are still unknown according to the report’s findings.
The report stresses that the bridges that were destroyed by international coalition forces or the Syrian regime haven’t been used regularly in an abnormal manner for military purposes. Therefore, they shouldn’t be a target. This constitutes a breach of the international humanitarian law (Protocol I – Article 56, and Protocol II, Article 15).
The report also notes that the indiscriminate, disproportionate bombardment is an explicit breach of the international humanitarian law. The crime of indiscriminate murder amounts to war crimes.
The report adds that there are strong indicators that compel the belief that the damage was too excessive compared with the anticipated military benefit.
The report calls on all the parties to respect the international humanitarian law and the customary international law, shoulder the consequences of all violations, and make sure that these violations won’t reoccur.
Furthermore, the report calls for holding all those who were involved in these incidents accountable, and for launching investigation in order to clarify and reveal the criteria for targeting the bridges by the attacking forces, and prove that they were used regularly for military operations.
The report urges that local residents must be compensated for the material, health, and moral damages they suffered, where steps must be taken to achieve that as soon as possible.