In an interview with the BBC, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied his forces have used barrel bombs. "I know about the army, they use bullets, missiles, and bombs. I haven't heard of the army using barrels, or maybe, cooking pots," Assad said, apparently making light of the allegations.

Pressed again about their use, he replied: "They're called bombs.... There is no barrel bombs, we don't have barrels."

syria barrel bombs
7 September, 2013: A barrel reportedly dropped from a Syrian government aircraft lies on the ground in the Ariha countryside Housam Abo Dabak/Reuters

The government's use of the crude explosive devices has been widely documented by international human rights organisations and residents of opposition-held areas in Syria.

Helicopters drop crude bombs — barrels packed with explosives, fuel and scraps of metal — on the city, causing immense damage and indiscriminate loss of life, according to activists. The helicopters drop the bombs from a great height so that they can stay out of reach of the rebels' surface-to-air missiles, making the targeting less accurate.

In the BBC interview, Jeremy Bowen said that Human Rights Watch has stated that forces loyal to Bashar Assad "have deliberately and viciously attacked civilians in opposition-held areas using indiscriminate weapons, notoriously barrel bombs".

To that, Assad replied: "This is a childish story they keep repeating in the West."