Russia accused by locals of “double-tap” attack on civilians in boats
Former residents say Russian jets have killed at least 60 civilians trying to flee fighting in Deir ez-Zor Province in eastern Syria.
The civilians were reportedly slain when their small boats were targeted as they tried to cross the Euphrates River south of Deir ez-Zor city.
“Russian jets staged a second wave of strikes on the boats that were fleeing across the river, causing more casualties among those who rushed to rescue earlier survivors,” said Abdullah al-Akaidat, a tribal figure in northern Syria, who is in contact with relatives in the area.
The former residents said 15 civilians were killed in airstrikes on the town of al Quriya, further north along the Euphrates.
Pro-Assad forces reached Deir ez-Zor city last month, breaking a three-year Islamic State siege, in a summer offensive that moved rapidly into and across the province. However, in the past week an ISIS counter-attack has regained territory to the south and west of the city, reaching and capturing the town of Qaraytayn in eastern Homs Province.
Moscow has also been unsettled by the deaths of its military personnel in Deir ez-Zor, including a general, and the release of an ISIS video purporting to show two captured Russian troops. The Kremlin insisted on Wednesday that the two men are not part of the Russian military, but said it is checking their identities.
To cover the extent of its ground involvement in Syria, Russia relies heavily on contract personnel deployed by Russian companies.
OPCW: Regime Military Used Sarin Days Before Deadly Khan Sheikhoun Attack
The Assad regime deployed sarin on a town in northern Hama Province in late March, days before its deadly attack with the nerve agent on another opposition-held town, Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province.
Sources said an inquiry by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has confirmed the March 30 use of sarin on Latamneh in northern Hama Province, adjacent to Idlib Province.
About 70 people suffered nausea, foaming at the mouth, and muscle spasms in Latamneh. Five days later, at least 92 people died and hundreds were wounded when a regime Su-22 jet dropped a sarin canister on Khan Sheikhoun.
The head of the OPCW, Ahmet Uzumcu, confirmed the report: “Analysis of samples collected… relates to an incident that took place again in the northern part of Syria on the 30th of March this year. The results prove the existence of sarin.”
Saying about 50 people were injured, Uzumcu said the OPCW team had retrieved soil samples, clothing, and metal parts “which were sent to our laboratories and we received the results a few days ago”.
In June the OPCW’s Fact Finding Mission confirmed the use of the nerve agent in the Khan Sheikhoun attack. Its new report is due to be completed within weeks.
The FFM cannot assign blame for an attack. However, the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism can do so.
The JIM has already found regimes forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015. It is scheduled to report to the UN Security Council this month on responsibility for Khan Sheikhoun.
Russia has threatened to block the renewal of the JIM’s mandate in mid-November.
“The Russians don’t like what the JIM has come up with so far, so they are muttering about not allowing a rollover,” sa diplomat of a Security Council member told Reuters.