A White Helmets rescuer holds a child killed by Russia-regime bombing of Ma’arat al-Nu’man, Idlib Province, northwest Syria, August 28, 2019
In its latest report, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria says the Assad regime and Russia may have committed more war crimes, targeting medical facilities, schools, markets, and crops in their attacks on opposition-held n northwest Syria.
The Commission also said in its 18th report, released Wednesday, that the US may have carried out a war crime in its assault against the Islamic State in the northeast of the country. And it blamed the Islamist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, fighting the Russia-regime offensive in the northwest, for indiscriminate rocket fire that killed civilians.
Most of the report detailed the Russian-regime attacks on civilian sites. It cited May 14 strikes on Jisr al-Shughour in northwest Idlib, “pro-government forces air-dropped between two and four missiles on a fish market and primary school for girls”, killing at least eight civilians.
Such attacks may amount to the war crime of deliberately attacking protected objects and intentionally attacking medical personnel.
Launched in late April, the Russian-regime offensive on Idlib and northern Hama Provinces has killed more than 1,000 civilians, wounded thousands, and displaced more than 400,000. The area has about 3 million people — 20% of the remaining population in Syria — according to the UN.
UN officials have repeatedly warned that the offensive is threatening “the lives of millions of civilians”, with
Panos Moumtzis, the UN’s humanitarian chief for Syria, saying, “These people don’t know where to go. A total panic has resumed again. It is like playing with fire.”
In a presentation in early August, Moumtzis said 39 health facilities, 50 schools, water points, markets, bakeries, and multiple civilian neighborhoods had suffered direct hits. The UN’s human rights head Michelle Bachelet detailed the “war crimes” of the assaults and criticized the “failure of leadership by the world’s most powerful nations” with their “collective shrug”.
The offensive broke through anti-Assad lines in early August and has captured almost all of northern Hama and parts of southern Idlib.
The Commission of Inquiry’s report, covering the period up to July 31, is based on 291 interviews and analysis of satellite imagery, photographs, and video. It will be considered by the UN Human Rights Council.
Detentions and Torture
The report also noted other regime abuses: “In government-controlled areas, civilians, including recent returnees, have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, harassed, mistreated, and tortured.”
Local activists, aid workers, and residents of displaced persons camps have testified to the detention, interrogation, and disappearance of those who have been forced to return to homes despite fears for their safety.
Russia and the regime, hoping to claim “reconciliation”, have tried to force residents out of camps such as Rukban in southeast Syria near the Jordanian border. Almost all the displaced have said that they fear detention, forced conscription, and abuse by regime officials, but a year-long siege has reduced the camp’s population from more than 50,000 to about 13,000.
UN officials visited the camp last to carry out a survey of those remaining; however, one resident summarized to EA, “Only very few want to leave now — not as before.”
The UN was allowed by the Assad regime to deliver food and some items to the camp — only the third aid convoy permitted by Damascus since about 2018 — but camp sources said about 200 families did not receive provisions.
US-Led “Indiscriminate Attacks”
The UN report cited a possible war crime by the US-led coalition before the final defeat of Islamic State fighters in northeast Syria, saying airstrikes killed and wounded many civilians as precautions were ignored.
The aerial attacks backed a ground offensive by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces from autumn 2015 through the spring, when ISIS lost its last village, near the Iraq border.
The report cited January 3 airstrikes in Sha’fah in the Hajin region, killing 16 civilians including 12 children:
Launching indiscriminate attacks that result in death or injury to civilians amounts to a war crime in cases in which such attacks are conducted recklessly.
The report also cited night attacks by SDF forces ,backed by coalition helicopter gunships, that killed and wounded civilians in parts of Deir ez-Zor Province.