Eighty countries sign declaration to curb bombing in urban areas

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DUBLIN (Reuters) - Eighty countries including the United States, Britain and France signed a declaration in Dublin on Friday pledging to refrain from urban bombing, the first time states have agreed to curb the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

The international agreement is the product of more than three years of negotiation and is intended to address the devastating impact of attacks on civilians and critical civilian infrastructure.

"Today's Political Declaration sets out actions to be taken in military operations to strengthen the protection of civilians," Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said in a statement.

"Its implementation will change how militaries operate in populated areas, including a commitment around restricting or refraining from the use of explosive weapons, when their use may be expected to cause harm to civilians or civilian objects."

Russia has been bombing Ukrainian infrastructure in the course of its nine-month-old invasion of its neighbour, causing nationwide blackouts that have forced Ukraine to ration energy use as winter approaches.

Moscow has acknowledged targeting energy infrastructure but denies targeting civilians. Some 6,557 civilians have been killed in the war in Ukraine as of Nov. 13, the United Nations human rights office reported.

More than 2/3 of NATO countries signed the declaration.

Critics have long said the West's own long history of bombing urban areas in warfare leaves is open to accusations of hypocrisy.

The United States and the United Kingdom used heavy explosive weapons in the city of Mosul, Iraq during a military campaign against the Islamic State that ended in 2017 while the NATO ran a 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslovia in 1999.

Other countries whose recent wars have included urban bombing strikes include Ethiopia, Syria and Yemen.

"It's become hard for states not to recognise this massive humanitarian problem," Laura Boillot, coordinator for the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), told Reuters.

However, the declaration was not endorsed by major military powers Russia, China and Israel, or by India.

The pact is a political commitment but not legally binding and there are no sanctions if states fail to implement it.

The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mirjana Spoljaric, praised the deal but said it was the beginning of a long process.

"It sends a powerful signal that belligerents cannot continue fighting in populated areas the way they have until now," she said.

(Reporting by Graham Fahy and Emma Farge in Geneva)