Evidence released by Human Rights Watch suggests that the Syrian military has begun using cluster bombs in its ongoing civil war, with claims of bomblets found near the cities of Homs and Aleppo, as well is near Latakia.
The evidence shown was from multi-decade old bomblets manufactured by the Soviet Union, which has long been a source of weaponry for the Syrian government. Though much of the world has banned the use of cluster munitions, Syria is not one of those nations.
The use of cluster bombs has been fairly common in the region, with the US using cluster munitions during its 2003 invasion of Iraq and Israel littering much of south Lebanon with cluster bomblets in the waning days of their 2006 invasion.
The weapons are meant as anti-personnel bombs, scattering smaller explosives across an area to target a large quantity of troops. They are problematic, however, because the bomblets don’t always explode on contact with the ground and many lay unexploded for years before being discovered. NATO bomblets dropped during the 1999 invasion of Serbia killed two soldiers in August of this year, and casualties are regularly reported out of Lebanon.
Human Rights Watch termed the use of such weapons “beyond the pale” and suggested that their use proved a “desperation” among Syrian officials. Exactly how widespread their use is remains unclear.