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In war-torn Syria, tactic of targeting civilians is on the rise

Under international law, it's a war crime to target civilians in a war zone. That hasn't halted the tactic in Syria, where hundreds of civilians have died in attacks such as one Sunday at a bakery in Halfaya in a rebel stronghold.

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Syrian jets targeted a bakery in Halfaya on Sunday, killing dozens of civilians who were waiting for bread. A day later, the storefront is still full of bombed-out rubble.

Samer Al-Hamwi/Reuters

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The tactic employed increasingly in the Syrian conflict is particularly heinous and craven: Watch for shuttered bakeries in conflict-torn towns to reopen after receiving shipments of flour, and when the bread lines of the desperately hungry form, attack.

That scenario was repeated Sunday, in the Syrian town of Halfaya in the rebel-stronghold province of Hama, when a reopened bakery that had attracted hundreds of people seeking bread was bombed by government warplanes, according to news reports quoting local residents. Such attacks on spots that attract large numbers of civilians, such as bakeries, are a war crime under the 1949 Geneva Convention. Hundreds of Syrians have died in such attacks in a brutal civil war that has claimed more than 40,000 lives since early 2011, mostly civilians. 

But it was not apparent that the United Nations-Arab League envoy on the Syrian crisis, Lakhdar Brahimi, brought up the Halfaya attack or the tactic of bread-line targeting when he met Monday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

Speaking with reporters at his Damascus hotel after his meeting, Mr. Brahimi said he had had the “honor” to meet with Mr. Assad and to share with him the perspectives of regional and world powers he has consulted with on the crisis.

Calling the Syrian conflict “worrying,” Brahimi said it was his hope that “all parties are in favor of a solution that draws Syrian people together.”

But in a video released Sunday by Syrian rebels and claiming to show the aftermath of the Halfaya bread-line bombing, a man is shown screaming at the camera, “Where is the world? Where is the outrage?” Locals claimed that more than 100 people were killed in the attack after Syrian jets fired missiles at the bakery, which had been without flour for at least a week.

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