Syrian forces 'using cluster bombs'

Syrian government forces appear to have recently made use of cluster bombs, weapons banned by most countries because of the danger they pose to civilians, a New York-based rights watchdog has said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report that Syrian activists posted at least 18 videos on October 9-12 showing remnants of the bombs in or near several towns, which included the central city of Homs, the northern cities of Idlib and Aleppo, the countryside in Latakia, and the Eastern Ghouta district near the capital Damascus.

Many were on a north-south highway that has been the scene of fighting in recent days.

Cluster bombs are of particular concern because they scatter small bomblets over a wide area. Many bomblets do not immediately explode, posing a threat to civilians for long afterwards.

HRW said the munitions in the video were Soviet-made. Before its collapse, the Soviet Union was a major arms supplier to Syria.

It is nearly impossible to independently verify such reports in Syria, where journalists' movement is restricted and the government keeps a tight-lid on news related to the revolt - which it blames on a foreign conspiracy.

"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, HRW's arms director.

He said cluster bombs "have been comprehensively banned by most nations, and Syria should immediately stop all use of these indiscriminate weapons that continue to kill and maim for years".

The report said the cluster bomb canisters and submunitions displayed in the videos "all show damage and wear patterns produced by being mounted on and dropped from an aircraft".

Some residents confirmed in interviews that helicopters dropped cluster bombs near their homes on October 9, the group said. The group did not have information if the munitions had caused any casualties.