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'Hell Cannons' Have Slaughtered More Than 300 Syrian Civilians

Syrian war monitors say cooking gas canister cannons are a deadly addition to the growing arsenal of improvised weapons responsible for civilian deaths.

by Liz Fields
Dec 12 2014, 4:00pm

Photo by Sami Ali/AFP/Getty Images

Over the course of Syria's more than three-year civil war there has been no shortage of improvised incendiary devices fashioned to kill and wound people quickly and over large expanses of the country. Now mortar bombs made from cooking gas canisters can be added to that list of deadly improvised weapons.

Dubbed "hell cannons," the rebel-operated mortar bombs have killed at least 311 civilians and wounded more than 700 since July, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Friday.

The rudimentary devices are made by loading gas canisters with explosives, which are then fired out of huge cannons.

The northern city of Aleppo — Syria's second largest — has seen the most deaths — 203 — as a result of these devices, which are wildly inaccurate and have killed fighters, women, and children, the monitoring group said.

SOHR reported that at least 42 children and 25 women have been killed by "hell cannons" in Aleppo.

A wide range of weapons have been employed by both sides in Syria's civil war, which began in 2011 with a pro-democracy uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's government, and quickly grew into an armed rebellion by various rebel factions. The war has been further complicated this year with the massive gains of Islamic State militants, who have seized vast swathes of land in both Syria and Iraq.

The United Nations has previously estimated some 200,000 people have died since the beginning of the war, but SOHR puts the number closer to 300,000 since March 2011, which includes more than 63,000 civilian deaths.

Assad's forces have also been accused of employing improvised weapons, including barrel bombs — oil barrels packed with explosives and shrapnel dropped from warplane and helicopters — and chemical weapons against rebel and Islamic State targets, but indiscriminately killing scores of Syrian civilians in the process.

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Follow Liz Fields on Twitter:@lianzifields

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