New Straits Times

‘Assad, Russia, US guilty of unlawful strikes’


GENEVA: Airstrikes by Russia and a United States-led coalition killed civilians in Syria on a large scale last year, while the Assad government carried out unlawful chemical weapon attacks in rebel-held eastern Ghouta, the United Nations war crimes investigat­ors said yesterday.

Islamic State fighters and other insurgent groups committed war crimes, including deadly attacks on civilians and using them as human shields, the investigat­ors said in their latest report covering six months through Jan 15.

During the period, “victims of the Syrian conflict have suffered greatly as violence countrywid­e re-escalated to new heights”, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry said.

“(Syrian) government forces continued to use chemical weapons against armed group fighters in eastern Ghouta,” it said in its report.

Among other key findings, it said that an airstrike by a “Russian fixed-wing aircraft” using unguided weapons last November hit a market killing at least 84 people in Atareb, west of Aleppo, in a “de-escalation zone” declared by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

It found no evidence that the Russian strike had deliberate­ly targeted the market, but said “this attack may amount to the war crime of launching indiscrimi­nate attacks resulting in death and injury to civilians“, the first time it has explicitly implicated Moscow in possible war crimes.

And three US-led coalition strikes on a school near Raqqa in March last year killed 150 residents — roughly five times the toll acknowledg­ed by the Pentagon, which said at the time that dozens of militants, and not civilians, were killed.

The UN investigat­ors found no evidence that IS fighters were at the site, and said the US-led coalition had violated internatio­nal law by failing in its duty to protect civilians.

The independen­t investigat­ors called on all sides to allow access to besieged areas and all detainees.

Justice must be served in any peace deal ending the conflict soon entering its eighth year, they said.

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