BEIRUT (Reuters) - Amnesty International said on Friday that Syrian insurgent groups might have committed war crimes in their heavy bombardment of a Kurdish-controlled area of the northern city of Aleppo.
The rights watchdog said it had collected evidence of the killing of dozens of civilians by indiscriminate shellfire on the Sheikh Maqsoud neighbourhood in Syria’s former commercial hub, which is mostly split between government and rebel control.
The violence is part of intense fighting pitting the Kurdish YPG militia - which is backed by Washington in the fight against Islamic State militants - against rebel groups, some of them backed by foreign countries via Turkey.
Both sides have accused each other of killing civilians.
“Armed groups surrounding the Sheikh Maqsoud district ... have repeatedly carried out indiscriminate attacks that have struck civilian homes, streets, markets and mosques, killing and injuring civilians and displaying a shameful disregard for human life,” Amnesty said in a statement.
The attacks “may amount to war crimes,” its deputy Middle East director Magdalena Mughrabi said.
“By firing imprecise explosive weapons into civilian neighbourhoods the armed groups attacking Sheikh Maqsoud are flagrantly flouting the principle of distinction between civilian and military targets, a cardinal rule of international humanitarian law.”
Amnesty drew on eyewitness testimony and videos, and said at least 83 civilians including 30 children had been killed in the area between February and April.
The YPG and its allies have for several months been battling insurgents including some Islamist groups in northern Aleppo province, which borders Turkey. Shellings of Sheikh Maqsoud, which has a large Kurdish population, have intensified since February.
Rebels say the YPG wants to take a road which provides access from Turkey to Aleppo’s rebel-held western approaches.
They say the YPG is working with the Syrian government. The YPG denies it is coordinating attacks with Damascus.
Fighting farther north, including near the town of Azaz, continues as the YPG and insurgents compete for control in the area.
Turkey, which is fighting its own insurgency against Kurdish militants in its southeast, views with concern any expansion of control by the YPG, which already holds an uninterrupted 400 km (250 mile) stretch along the Syrian-Turkish frontier. Its forces have shelled Kurdish positions across the border.
The YPG has meanwhile been the most effective partner on the ground for a U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State, and seized larges areas from the group last year in northern Syria.
Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Andrew Heavens