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After MiG fighters and TNT barrels, Assad’s army now uses cluster bombs: France

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After using Russian-made MiG fighter jets and barrels of TNT, the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has resorted to cluster bombs in its fights to subdue a daring armed opposition, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Wednesday.

“Over the last few months… the [Syrian] regime has reached a new milestone in resorting to violence –MiG [aircraft] then the release of barrels of TNT and more recently and more terrible still to cluster munitions,” said Fabius, according to AFP.

The declaration came three days after international group Human Rights Watch accused the regime of using the weapons this week, which detonate and disperse smaller explosives.

The bombs were dropped from planes and helicopters, with many of the strikes taking place near the main north-south highway running through the northwestern town of Maarat al-Numan, HRW said in a report.

Rebels seized Maarat al-Numan from President Bashar al-Assad’s troops last week, cutting the route from the capital Damascus to Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city. Government forces have been trying to retake the area since then.

HRW previously reported Syrian use of cluster bombs, which have been banned by most countries, in July and August but the renewed strikes indicate the government’s determination to regain strategic control in the northwest.

Towns targeted included Maarat, Tamanea, Taftanaz and al-Tah. Cluster bombs were also used in other areas in Homs, Aleppo and Lattakia provinces as well as near Damascus, the rights group said.

“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, arms director at HRW.

Initial information about the use of the explosives came from videos posted online by opposition activists although HRW investigators said it had confirmed the incidents in interviews with resident in two towns, it had no information on casualties.

The cluster bombs were Russian-made but it was not known how or when Syria acquired them, New York-based HRW said.

Syria denied the HRW report on Monday, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).

The Syrian army said it doesn’t have any cluster bombs in its arsenal, SANA said, citing a statement issued by the army.

As the conflict in Syria to topple autocratic leader President Bashar al-Assad enters its 20th month, it has claimed some 33,000 lives.