Syria and the Rules of War


In the summer of 1925, a large revolt broke out in the French Syrian Mandate, a territory administered by France in conjunction with the League of Nations after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. The uprising began with the Druze in the semi-autonomous region of southern Syria, Jabal al-Druze. But given the unpopularity of French rule, it spread quickly throughout Syria and Lebanon and across sectarian lines. To their international humiliation, the French proved incapable of slowing its expansion, as major uprisings broke out in the cities of Hama and Homs (both centers of the civil war today). In October 1925, as fighting raged in and around Damascus, the French army responded with brutal force: burning villages suspected of harboring insurgents, publicly parading the corpses of slain Syrian fighters, and indiscriminately shelling civilian areas in Damascus and its outskirts, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 civilians. The opposition was finally defeated in the summer of 1927. But the 1925 bombardment of Damascus sparked an international controversy: did the direct targeting of civilian areas in and around Damascus violate the laws of war as they had been established in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?

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