Russia has been accused of using cluster munitions and unguided bombs on civilian areas in Syria in attacks that have killed hundreds of people in the past few months.
A report by Amnesty International said there has been a surge in reports of cluster munitions dropped in areas targeted by Russian forces since Moscow formally joined the conflict on 30 September.
Cluster munitions are by nature indiscriminate and often leave unexploded bomblets on the ground. These can maim and kill civilians long after the end of hostilities.
The report focuses on six attacks in Homs, Idlib and Aleppo provinces between September and November which it says killed at least 200 civilians.
It denounced Russia’s “shameful failure” to acknowledge civilian killings.
“Some Russian air strikes appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military target and even medical facilities, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa programme.
“Such attacks may amount to war crimes.”
The group said that on 29 November at least one suspected Russian warplane fired three missiles into a busy public market in Ariha, in Idlib province.
A local activist group said a total of 49 civilians were either killed or missing and feared dead. “It was a normal Sunday; there was nothing unusual. People were buying goods; children were eating,” the activist, Mohammed Qurabi al-Ghazal, told Amnesty.
“First there was a loud explosion – dirt flying in the air – followed immediately by shock. In just a few moments, people were screaming, the smell of burning was in the air and there was just chaos.”
He said the armed group Jaysh al-Fateh controlled the area, but did not have any presence inside Ariha itself.
“Some Russian air strikes appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military target and even medical facilities, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians,” Amnesty’s Mr Luther said.
“Such attacks may amount to war crimes,” he added.
The accusations follow a report by New York-based Human Rights Watch last week which said cluster munitions were used on at least 20 occasions since Syria and Russia began their joint offensive.