Group: Syrian forces using cluster bombs

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BEIRUT -- The Syrian regime was accused Sunday of dropping cluster bombs -- indiscriminate scattershot munitions banned by most nations -- in a new sign of desperation and disregard for its own people.

Human Rights Watch cited amateur video and testimony from the front lines in making the allegation against the government of President Bashar Assad.

Syria and Turkey, meanwhile, declared their skies off-limits to each other amid mounting cross-border tensions in Syria's 19-month-old conflict, now a civil war. Turkey is an outspoken backer of rebels trying to oust Assad.

Human Rights Watch said new amateur videos and interviews with residents suggest the Syrian air force has dropped cluster bombs in the past week, mainly along a main highway in western Syria that runs through Maaret al-Numan, a town captured by rebels after fierce fighting. Cluster bombs open in flight, scattering smaller bomblets over a wide area. Many of the bomblets don't explode immediately, posing a threat to civilians long afterward.

First word of cluster bombs being dropped by the regime emerged in July, but the recent reports indicated a more widespread use, said Nadim Houry, a Lebanon-based researcher for Human Rights Watch.

There was no immediate report of casualties from the recent cluster bombs, the report said, adding that the munitions shown in the videos were made in the Soviet Union, a major arms supplier to Syria before its collapse in 1991. Amateur videos cannot be confirmed independently because Syria restricts access to foreign journalists and the government keeps a tight lid on news related to the conflict, which it blames on a foreign conspiracy.-- AP

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