Over 100 Iranian aircraft have been used to ship military equipment and forces belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard under the guise of humanitarian aid to Syria, the U.S. Department of Treasury announced Wednesday.
The Treasury Department is in the process of identifying a total of 117 aircraft operated by three different Iranian airlines.
“Iran has used deceptive measures when shipping such items to Syria, by using a combination of passenger and cargo flights and declaring illicit cargo as humanitarian and other licit goods,” the Department of Treasury said in a statement on its website.
David S. Cohen, Treasury Department undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement on the department’s website that the identification of the aircraft “highlights Iran’s ongoing effort to support the Assad regime’s WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programs and crackdown against the Syrian people.”
On Sunday, in the first official mention of an Iranian military presence in Syria, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Cmdr.Mohammad Ali Jafari said that advisers from the elite military unit are giving nonmilitary assistance to the Syrian regime.
During an inspection by Turkish authorities in March 2011, an Iranian-operated flight bound for Syria, which was listed as carrying “auto spare parts,” was found to be carrying AK-47 assault rifles, machine guns, and nearly 8,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as an assortment of mortar shells, according to the Treasury Department.
In addition, a state-owned Belorussian exporter of military equipment, Belvneshpromservice, was designated by the Treasury Department Wednesday as providing Syrian authorities with fuses for aerial bombs.
Amnesty International said Wednesday that Syria’s government forces are conducting indiscriminate bombings and artillery strikes on residential areas that often kill civilians and are not targeting rebel fighters.
“Government forces now routinely bomb and shell towns and villages using battlefield weapons, which cannot be aimed at specific targets, knowing that the victims of such indiscriminate attacks are almost always civilians,” Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser, said in a statement.
Rovera said that attacks on civilians and the humanitarian situation in northern Syria “has been underreported as world attention has largely focused on the fighting in Aleppo and Damascus.”
“But the horrors of what the residents of Idlib, Jabal al-Zawiya, and north Hama endure every day is just as harrowing. Such indiscriminate attacks constitute war crimes,” Rovera added.
On Wednesday, weeks of intense combat and heavy shelling by Syrian government forces forced rebel fighters out of several districts of the Syrian capital Damascus.
Also on Wednesday in Aleppo in Northern Syria, human rights groups reported heavy bombardments by government forces.
According to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood of Aleppo was “witnessing what is thought to be the most violent bombardment since the start of the revolution.”
According to the observatory, at least 80 people, 65 of whom were civilians, were killed Wednesday as a result of the conflict.
The United Nations estimates that around 20,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in March 2011, while activists say the death toll is much greater.
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