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Syrian and Russian Airstrikes in Idlib, Militant Attacks Amount to War Crimes - UN

Syrian and Russian Airstrikes in Idlib, Militant Attacks Amount to War Crimes - UN

Tuesday, 7 July, 2020 - 14:30
Saher al-Ali's family members stand inside their damaged house in the rebel-held town of Nairab, Idlib region, Syria April 17, 2020. Picture taken April 17, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
Asharq Al-Awsat

Syrian and Russian planes have carried out deadly aerial strikes amounting to war crimes on schools, hospitals, and markets in Idlib province, UN investigators said on Tuesday in a report that also condemned attacks by militant fighters.


They said that "indiscriminate bombardment" by pro-government forces, ahead of a March ceasefire brokered with Turkey, claimed hundreds of lives and forced nearly one million civilians to flee, which may amount to a crime against humanity.


The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria also accused Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a militant group that controls part of northwest Syria, of firing artillery into civilian areas "with no apparent legitimate military objective".


Fighters from HTS, a group formerly known as Nusra Front, have tortured and executed detainees, it added.


"What is clear from the military campaign is that pro-government forces and UN-designated terrorists flagrantly violated the laws of war and the rights of Syrian civilians," Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN panel, said in a statement.


The report, covering Nov. 2019 until June 2020, was based on overflight data and witness testimony.


It examines 52 "emblematic attacks" in northwest Syria, including 47 attributed to the Russian-backed Syrian government.


Russian warplanes were solely implicated in a deadly March 5 strike on a poultry farm near Marat Misrin that sheltered displaced people and in three strikes next to a hospital damaged in the rebel-held town of Ariha on Jan. 29, the report said. Russia denies involvement in the latter attack, it said.


The region is home to a mix of militant and opposition groups, many of which fled other parts of Syria as President Bashar al-Assad, with Russian backing, seized back territory from them.


"The Commission has reasonable grounds to believe that pro-government forces committed the war crimes of deliberately attacking medical personnel and facilities by conducting airstrikes," it said.


Karen Koning AbuZayd, a panel member, said: "Women, men, and children that we interviewed faced the ghastly choice of being bombarded or fleeing deeper into HTS-controlled areas where there are rampant abuses of human rights...


"The acts by HTS members amount to war crimes."


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