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HRW Blasts Russia, Syria Over Banned Weapons Attacks

Smoke plumes follow reported air strikes on the town of Khan Sheikhun in the southern countryside of the rebel-held Idlib Province on June 3.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Syrian-Russian "military alliance" of using a "cocktail of internationally banned and indiscriminate weapons" in attacks on civilians in northwestern Syria.

Since April 26, hundreds of attacks have been carried out every day in areas controlled by anti-government groups in Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo provinces, killing an estimated 200 civilians, including children, HRW said in a statement on June 3.

Citing reports by first responders, witnesses, and open-source material, the New York-based watchdog said that "banned cluster munitions and incendiary weapons" were used in attacks in civilian-populated areas, along with explosive weapons with wide-area effects such as barrel bombs.

Meanwhile, Russia has "abused its position at the UN Security Council to protect itself and its ally in Damascus, and to continue these abuses against civilians," said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at HRW.

The region is home to 3 million civilians, according to the United Nations.

Fighting escalated there in April following a six-month cease-fire.

Russia, along with Iran, has given Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crucial military and diplomatic support throughout the country's eight-year civil war, which began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011. The United States and Turkey have backed differing rebel groups.