Russian-led assault in Syria leaves over 500 civilians dead, say rights groups

Syrians inspect the damage following reported regime airstrikes on the town of Muhambal, in the northern Idlib province on July 6, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 07 July 2019

Russian-led assault in Syria leaves over 500 civilians dead, say rights groups

  • Russia and its Syrian army ally deny their jets hit indiscriminately civilian areas with cluster munitions and incendiary weapons

AMMAN: At least 544 civilians have been killed and over 2,000 people injured since a Russian-led assault on the last rebel bastion in northwestern Syria began two months ago, rights groups and rescuers said on Saturday.
Russian jets joined the Syrian army on April 26 in the biggest offensive against parts of rebel-held Idlib province and adjoining northern Hama provinces in the biggest escalation in the war between Syrian President Bashar al Assad and his enemies since last summer.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights,(SNHR), which monitors casualties and briefs various UN agencies, said the 544 civilians killed in the hundreds of attacks carried out by Russian jets and the Syrian army include 130 children. Another 2,117 people have been injured.
"The Russian military and its Syrian ally are deliberately targeting civilians with a record number of medical facilities bombed," Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman of SNHR, told Reuters.
Russia and its Syrian army ally deny their jets hit indiscriminately civilian areas with cluster munitions and incendiary weapons, which residents in opposition areas say are meant to paralyse every-day life.
Moscow says its forces and the Syrian army are fending off terror attacks by al Qaeda militants whom they say hit populated, government-held areas, and it accuses rebels of wrecking a ceasefire deal agreed last year between Turkey and Russia.
Last month U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said the Russian-Syrian joint military operation had used cluster munitions and incendiary weapons in the attacks along with large air-dropped explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated civilian areas, based on reports by first responders and witnesses.
Residents and rescuers say the two-month-old campaign has left dozens of villages and towns in ruins. According to the United Nations, at least 300,000 people have been forced to leave their homes for the safety of areas closer to the border with Turkey.
"Whole villages and towns have been emptied," said Idlib-based Civil Defence spokesman Ahmad al Sheikho, saying it was the most destructive campaign against Idlib province since it completely fell to the opposition in the middle of 2015.
On Friday, 15 people, including children, were killed in the village of Mhambil in western Idlib province after Syrian army helicopters dropped barrel bombs on a civilian quarter, the civil defence group and witnesses said.
The heads of 11 major global humanitarian organizations warned at the end of last month that Idlib stood at the brink of disaster, with 3 million civilian lives at risk, including 1 million children.
"Too many have died already” and “even wars have laws” they declared, in the face of multiple attacks by government forces and their allies on hospitals, schools and markets," the U.N.-endorsed statement said.
Last Thursday an aerial strike on Kafr Nabl hospital made it the 30th facility to be bombed durng the campaign, leaving hundreds of thousands with no medical access, according to aid groups.
"To have these medical facilities bombed and put out of service in less than two months is no accident. Let's call this by what it is, a war crime," Dr. Khaula Sawah, vice president of the U.S.-based Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, which provides aid in the northwest, said in a statement.


Iranian foreign minister Zarif arrives in Biarritz during G7

Updated 25 min 46 sec ago

Iranian foreign minister Zarif arrives in Biarritz during G7

  • Iranian foreign ministry says Zarif will not hold talks with Trump and his team
  • Earlier Trump dampened down Emmanuel Macron's optimism on Iran talks

BIARRITZ, France: -Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif landed in the French seaside resort of Biarritz Sunday for talks during a G7 summit.

"Zarif... has arrived in Biarritz, where the G7 is being held, to continue talks regarding the recent measures between the presidents of Iran and France," foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, referring to their efforts to salvage a nuclear deal.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump appeared to brush aside French efforts to mediate with Iran on Sunday, saying that while he was happy for President Emmanuel Macron to reach out to Tehran to defuse tensions he would carry on with his own initiatives.
European leaders have struggled to tamp down the brewing confrontation between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled his country out of Iran’s internationally-brokered 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.
Macron, who has pushed mediation efforts in recent weeks to avoid a further deterioration in the region, had told LCI television that the G7 had agreed on joint action on Iran.
The French presidency said G7 leaders had even agreed that Macron should hold talks and pass on messages to Iran after they discussed the issue over dinner at a summit in southwestern France on Saturday evening.
However, Trump, who has pushed a maximum pressure policy on Iran, pushed back.
Asked if he had signed off on a statement that Macron intends to give on behalf of the G7 on Iran, Trump said:
“I haven’t discussed this. No I haven’t,” he told reporters, adding that Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were free to talk to Iran.
“We’ll do our own outreach, but, you know, I can’t stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can talk.”
Macron, who has taken the lead to defuse tensions fearing that a collapse of the nuclear deal could set ablaze the Middle East, met Zarif on Friday. The aim was to discuss proposals that could ease the crisis, including the idea of reducing some US sanctions or providing Iran with an economic compensation mechanism.
Macron appeared to backtrack on his own team’s comments later, saying there was no formal mandate from the G7 leaders to pass a message to Iran.
Highlighting just how difficult agreeing on concrete measures between allies is, Macron said the leaders’ views had converged on not wanting Iran to acquire a nuclear bomb and ensuring peace and security in the Middle East.
He was supposed to discuss those ideas with Trump on the sidelines of the G7, which also comprises Britain, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the EU.
“Everyone wants to avoid a conflict, Donald Trump was extremely clear on that point,” Macron told LCI.
“We have to continue to take initiatives and in the coming weeks that on the one hand there are no more Iranian decisions that contradict this objective and that we open new negotiations,” Macron said without giving details.
In response to the tougher US sanctions and what it says is the inability of European powers party to the deal — France, Britain and Germany, to compensate it for its lost oil revenue, Tehran has responded with a series of moves, including retreating from some of its commitments to limit its nuclear activity made under the deal.
The United States has made no indication it will ease any sanctions and it is unclear what kind of compensation mechanism Macron wants to offer Iran given at this stage a proposed trade channel for humanitarian and food exchanges with Iran is still not operational.
Macron has also said that in return for any concessions he would expect Iran to comply fully with the nuclear deal and for Iran to engage in new negotiations that would include its ballistic missile program and regional activities.