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War crimes being committed in Syria's Ghouta must be prosecuted: UN

In one of the deadliest offensives of Syria’s war, regime airstrikes and bombardment have killed hundreds of people over 12 days in Eastern Ghouta. (AFP)
GENEVA: Airstrikes on the besieged Syrian enclave of Eastern Ghouta and shelling from the opposition-held zone into Damascus probably constitute war crimes and must be prosecuted, the top UN human rights official said on Friday.
Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the perpetrators of such crimes in Syria should know they were being identified and that dossiers were being built with a view to future prosecutions.
In one of the deadliest offensives of Syria’s war, regime airstrikes and bombardment have killed hundreds of people over 12 days in Eastern Ghouta.
The UN Security Council called on Feb. 24 for a 30-day cease-fire in Eastern Ghouta, where 400,000 people live.
“Despite this rare example of unanimity, civilians in Eastern Ghouta have reported that airstrikes and shelling continue,” Al-Hussein told the Geneva rights forum during an urgent debate held at Britain’s request.
“Once again, I must emphasize that what we are seeing, in Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere in Syria, are likely war crimes, and potentially crimes against humanity. Civilians are being pounded into submission or death.” He added: “Syria must be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Attempts to thwart justice, and shield these criminals, are disgraceful.”
Hussam Aala, Syria’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said that Al-Hussein was “selective and biased” and that the debate was “politicized.”
British Ambassador Julian Braithwaite said that Eastern Ghouta had become “the epicenter” of suffering in Syria, with starving families huddled in basements to hide from “indiscriminate regime bombing.”
Britain has presented a resolution, which it hoped the council would adopt, calling on UN war crimes investigators to carry out an inquiry into events in Ghouta and report back by June.
“The Assad regime and its Russian backers continue to carry out airstrikes. Airstrikes which have caused more deaths of innocent men, women, and children, and which have caused more destruction of civilian infrastructure — including a maternity ward,” US Charge d’Affaires Theodore Allegra told the meeting.
Also on Friday, the US, Germany and France upped the pressure on Damascus as last weekend’s UN Security Council vote for a cease-fire has failed to stop fighting.
US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in a phone call that the Syrian regime must be held accountable. “This applies both to the Assad regime’s deployment of chemical weapons and for its attacks against civilians and the blockade of humanitarian support,” a German chancellery statement said.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Trump called for the immediate implementation of a 30-day cease-fire in Syria.
The French presidency’s office said in a statement the heads of state discussed the situation in a phone call on Friday.
Macron and Trump agreed to “work together” for the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution passed last weekend to allow a cease-fire, the transport of humanitarian aid and the evacuation of the injured and sick.
They call on Russia to “put maximal pressure on Damascus’ without ambiguity” so that the regime commits to respecting the UN resolution. 
Macron said the use of lethal chemical weapons, if proven, would lead to a strong response. He said he’s extremely vigilant on the issue, the statement said.

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