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