U.N.: Syria made de­lib­er­ate at­tack on aid con­voy

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - Nick Cum­ming Bruce ©2017 The New York Times

First the Syr­ian air force dropped bar­rel bombs from he­li­copters on a United Na­tions hu­man­i­tar­ian aid con­voy, then fired rock­ets from jets, then strafed sur­vivors with ma­chine guns, U.N. in­ves­ti­ga­tors said Wed­nes­day in a re­port that found gov­ern­ment forces not only had com­mit­ted the at­tack in Septem­ber but had done so de­lib­er­ately a war crime.

The at­tack, which killed 14 aid work­ers and stoked in­ter­na­tional out­rage, was “metic­u­lously planned” and “ruth­lessly car­ried out,” the re­port said.

It called the at­tack “one of the most egre­gious” of many war crimes that in­ves­ti­ga­tors said had been com­mit­ted dur­ing the gov­ern­ment’s five-month of­fen­sive to take full con­trol of the north­ern city of Aleppo.

The re­port, by a U.N. com­mis­sion of in­quiry that has been mon­i­tor­ing Syria’s con­flict for years, is one of the most hard-hit­ting of­fi­cial as­sess­ments yet.

Its ac­count of the con­voy at­tack went much fur­ther than find­ings of a U.N. in­quiry set up by then-Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon, which con­cluded in De­cem­ber that the con­voy had been bombed from the air but did not iden­tify the at­tack­ers.

The 31-truck con­voy or­ga­nized by the United Na­tions and the Syr­ian Arab Red Cres­cent had been car­ry­ing food, medicine, chil­dren’s clothes and other hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­plies des­tined for fam­i­lies in op­po­si­tion-con­trolled ar­eas and was trav­el­ing with the gov­ern­ment’s knowl­edge and per­mis­sion.

The gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad had no im­me­di­ate com­ment on the re­port, but it has re­peat­edly de­nied re­spon­si­bil­ity for the con­voy as­sault or any other war crimes in the con­flict, which As­sad re­gards as a bat­tle against ter­ror­ism.

Syr­ian of­fi­cials and their Rus­sian al­lies have sug­gested that in­sur­gents were re­spon­si­ble for hit­ting the con­voy, or per­haps even war­planes from the U.S.-led coali­tion that has been bomb­ing Is­lamic State tar­gets in Syria. The Amer­i­cans, who op­er­ate in ar­eas far from the con­voy as­sault site, have called such sug­ges­tions ab­surd.

The re­port re­leased Wed­nes­day found that war crimes had been com­mit­ted by rebel forces, as well, cor­rob­o­rat­ing many of the worst al­le­ga­tions that Aleppo res­i­dents had made against both sides.

For months, the Syr­ian forces and their Rus­sian al­lies bom­barded east­ern Aleppo as part of a strat­egy to force sur­ren­der, the com­mis­sion’s chair­man, Paulo Pin­heiro, told re­porters in Geneva, ex­press­ing frus­tra­tion that the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment had not co­op­er­ated with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The re­port found that gov­ern­ment forces had hit hos­pi­tals; used in­ter­na­tion­ally banned chlo­rine gas and clus­ter mu­ni­tions; ar­rested flee­ing civil­ians; and car­ried out sum­mary ex­e­cu­tions, with some sol­diers killing their own rel­a­tives.

On the other side, the re­port found that rebel groups had in­dis­crim­i­nately shelled gov­ern­ment-held civil­ian ar­eas with no spe­cific mil­i­tary tar­get, killing dozens, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren.

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