Earlier this week analysts found that RT, a government-funded Russian media company, edited out footage that initially showed Russian jets in Syria armed with incendiary munitions. The original clip was restored after RT said it had deleted the footage out of concerns for the pilot’s safety.
The use of incendiary weapons in Syria is nothing new — they’ve been dropped by Syrian government forces, albeit intermittently, since 2012. However, the munitions’ recent appearance, namely a pair of RBK-500 ZAB-2.5SM bombs strapped to the bottom of a Russian Su-34, comes among increasing reports of their use, namely around the besieged city of Aleppo.
Russia is party to a United Nations protocol that bans the use of air-dropped incendiary munitions onto areas that have concentrations of civilians; the Syrian government, however, is not.
According to N.R. Jenzen-Jones, director of the company Armament Research Services, the last time incendiary munitions were used in large concentrations, of the likes seen since the beginning of June, was in early 2013, indicating that the Syrian government has either been resupplied or is relying on the Russians to drop their own. Incendiary bombs, however, are somewhat trivial compared to the casualties caused by other weapons used in the conflict such as barrel bombs, improvised explosive devices and rifle fire.
Recent clips posted to YouTube show a number of strikes in the suburbs of Aleppo, where Syrian government forces have fought for months in an attempt to take the city from opposition forces. The footage, taken mostly at night, shows streaks of what looks like fireworks blossoming downward and erupting into flames on the ground. According to Mary Wareham, the arms advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, the type of incendiary munitions seen most frequently in Syria appear to be thermite-based weapons, and are often misidentified as napalm and white phosphorus. Similar in purpose, napalm and white phosphorus have checkered pasts that began with their use by the United States during the Vietnam War.
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