Landmines and explosive remnants of war continue to claim lives and limbs in Syria’s Daraa
Large areas in Syria’s southern province of Daraa have been severely affected by landmines, unexploded ordnance (UXO), and explosive remnants of war (ERW), amid the absence of warning signs, maps, and efforts to clear them or raise awareness of their hazards. All these together have caused the deaths of many innocent people in the province.
The latest victim was Ayham Abu Zaid, a nine-year-old child. An explosion of a “23” caliber of war remnants in Daraa ended his life on 12 May.
The list of those killed by the ERW in Daraa is too long, but this was not sufficient to lobby effectively for government or international action to address Daraa’s mine problem, nor at least to raise awareness of its dangers.
Mine/UXO explosions have killed eight people since the beginning of this year, the Daraa Martyrs’ Documentation Office, a local human rights organization that monitors assassinations and detentions in the province of Daraa, told Enab Baladi.
According to the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) in Syria, the death toll of land mines and UXO in Daraa reached 66 between August 2018 to December 2019, while 109 others were injured.
The United Nations (UN) estimates that more than ten million people live in areas contaminated by explosives hazards across Syria, that is to say, one of every two people lives under the explosives threats.
Absence of government action
In July 2018, with Russia’s help, the Syrian regime forces retook control of the southern province of Daraa from the rebels, under the “settlement” agreement, following days of bombing and military actions.
Since that time, the Syrian regime has opened roads throughout the province and encouraged people to return to their homes, without making an effort to ensure that the areas are free of mines, especially agricultural lands, and without launching campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers from the ERW.
Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Daraa contacted two young men: a landmine survivor, and the other who lost his friends in a mine blast (We reserve the right not to publish their names for security reasons).
The first young man’s leg was amputated while working in his field after stepping on a foreign body that he had no idea that it was a landmine. The landmine amputee said that “the farmers still feel fear and anxiety of the presence of mines buried in or placed on their lands, especially the land that has been lines of engagement for years.”
As for the other, he lost two of his friends after returning to the town of Athman, where they were killed by a landmine explosion in their agricultural tractor while they were plowing the land in the area.
The VDC report in Syria highlighted that the government of the Syrian government has not taken any measures or warning campaigns to protect citizens from landmine accidents.
Besides, the crises of landmines and ERW suffer from neglect and lack of media attention. The media of the Syrian regime talked about only one attempt to dismantle mines in December 2018, which ended with the killing of a first lieutenant and the injury of five others in the western Daraa countryside.
What is the role of international organizations?
The unexploded munition contributes to “threatening the safety of lives of the civilian population seriously and significantly,” the UN says. However, these warnings have not been translated into action on the ground.
The international organizations have not intervened to carry out mine clearance operations in the potential mine sites even though organizations were working on mine clearance before the Syrian regime’s takeover of the southern region.
Besides, the Russian forces have not provided any mine action assistance for ERW clearance, whether militarily or technically, to the Syrian regime forces after signing the so-called settlement agreement.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, the human rights activist and member of the Daraa Martyrs’ Documentation Office Omar al-Hariri said that clearing and demining is not the responsibility of international bodies except in the case of the state’s failure to do so, or if the state asks for international assistance in this regard.
The improvised explosive devices fall under the definition of “anti-personnel landmines” and are prohibited under the 1997 Ottawa Convention, also referred to as the “Mine Ban Treaty.”
The treaty, to which Syria is not a party, prohibits the use of anti-personnel landmines under any circumstances, even if they are placed as explosive devices or booby-traps.
Children are the greatest victims
Between August 2018 and December 2019, 26 children were killed in Daraa while 38 others were wounded. Three children have been killed, since the beginning of this year, by landmines, and ten by cluster bombs and unexploded ordnance, the last of landmine victims was the child, Abu Zaid.
Four children died from landmine injuries in December 2019 in the town of Nassib.
Two children, aged four and six, died from wounds sustained in November 2019 in the explosion of a cluster munition.
According to a VDC report in Syria, the father of the two children recounted the story of their children’s deaths; their children were playing in the neighborhood. Then, they found a small foreign body with an orange thread, they did not know what it was, and they brought it near the house to play with. They hit it with an iron piece, which led to its explosion and, consequently, to their death.
In the absence of mine awareness campaigns for children, similar incidents are very likely to increase, due to children’s ignorance of what explosives and their hazards are.
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