Syrian military forces have been systematically using bulldozers and controlled explosions to level entire neighborhoods in Damascus and Hama, in what appears to be an attempt to punish citizens for their rebel sympathies, Human Rights Watch alleges in a new report based on satellite images and witness testimony. The imagery reveals seven areas affected between July 2012 and July 2013 that total roughly 200 soccer fields' worth of razed neighborhoods. None of this destruction came during combat, though it sometimes came soon after it. Residents said they got little to no warning, giving them no time to collect their belongings before evacuating, according to al-Jazeera.
The Syrian government says the demolitions were an urban planning move centered around demolishing buildings that were constructed illegally, the Guardian reports. But Human Rights Watch says there haven't been any similar demolitions in areas that support the government, even though many of those homes also lack permits. "Wiping entire neighborhoods off the map is not a legitimate tactic of war," the group's emergency researcher said. The group has called upon the UN to hand the findings to the International Criminal Court. (Read more Syria stories.)