Satellite Images of Aleppo Suggest Use of Heavy Artillery Near Residential Areas

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Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: Aleppo has faced shellings since the Free Syrian Army rebels seized control of much of the city three weeks ago. The human rights group Amnesty USA has collected satellite images to document the use of heavy weaponry in and around Aleppo. Scott Edwards is Amnesty's Director of Crisis Prevention and Response in Washington.

Scott Edwards: We were very concerned with talks about some impending decisive battle in Aleppo, that's Syria's largest city, so we wanted to do an assessment of what heavy military hardware was around there and essentially identify what the risk was to civilians. And if the actions of the security forces, if the unbridled nature in which they put down peaceful protests would transfer over into how they would conduct military operations in this populous city, that's of great concern.

Mullins: There are some photos that show hundreds of black dots on the ground which your military analysts call "probable artillery impact craters". Do you know if those craters are near residential areas? And do you also have people from the ground right now from Amnesty who can confirm what you believe you're seeing?

Edwards: So "near" is a relative term of course. From the imagery you can see that Aleppo is quite large, it's dense, it's the largest city in Syria, and certainly by my estimation the artillery impacts, the probably artillery impacts appear quite close to civilian areas. And, again, those six hundred yellow dots and the impact craters that have been identified are the ones that meet some threshold, so surely it's an under-count if anything. Just as a practical rule, we're very careful not to comment on ground research and sort of where are researchers are for security purposes, but what I can say is the benefit to using remote-sensing and satellite technology is anyone could access this imagery and you can conduct the same analysis, and that's incredibly powerful, especially if we're thinking ahead to how this evidence of crimes that satellite imagery might show could be used in court because, of course, the key portion of that is the evaluation of it by both sides.

Mullins: So what kind of hardware then did you find in the photos?

Edwards: We identified with Aleppo and around Aleppo fifty-eight tanks. We identified forty-five armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles and twenty-eight towed artillery and twenty-one self-propelled artillery. So just a lot of firepower in and around Aleppo. The images themselves were collected over July 23rd to August 1st and certainly the reports that we're seeing from the ground today are quite troubling.

Mullins: Quite troubling in the fact that there is an impending attack? Or are you saying that this hardware is already being used?

Edwards: I can't confirm that. I'm only seeing media reports at the moment. What I can say is that the purpose of using this technology, we want to make it very clear to actors on the ground, whether this impending assault, this final decisive battle, is begun today or will tomorrow or has a week ago, that whether UN monitors happen to be in Aleppo, that right now Syria is one of the most heavily-imaged-with-satellites places on earth. People are watching, and it's perfectly conceivable that we can recreate what units were operating where based on this imagery that's being collected almost daily. And we just want to make it very clear that all sides to the conflict have an obligation to protect civilians and any actions, any use of hardware and tactics that would fail to discriminate between civilians and legitimate targets, or even worse, the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, we intend to document that. And just as with may constitute crimes against humanity that Amnesty has documented in its ground research, we ultimately want to see accountability and justice for these crimes and it should should be a forewarning to those involved in the conflict that we are watching.

Mullins: Thank you. Scott Edwards, Managing Director of Crisis Prevention and Response for Amnesty USA in Washington. Nice to speak with you.

Edwards: Thank you.