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)
Updated 03 March 2018

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

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.


18 killed in clashes in northwestern Syria

A heavily damaged building following Russian airstrikes and shelling on the town of Binnish in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on Monday. Three members of the same family were killed in the strike. (AFP)
Updated 43 min 53 sec ago

18 killed in clashes in northwestern Syria

  • Russian airstrikes on the town of Binnish in Idlib province killed three people from the same family on Monday, according to the Observatory. An AFP photographer saw plumes of smoke rising from the site of the attack

BEIRUT, JERUSALEM: Clashes between opposition groups and pro-Assad fighters in northwestern Syria on Monday thwarted regime’s advance and left 12 pro-regime men dead, a Britain-based war monitoring group said.
Another 17 pro-regime fighters were wounded while on the opposition-led side six fighters died, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The forces loyal to Bashar Assad had launched an attack with artillery and heavy gunfire in Syria’s last major opposition bastion, said the war monitor.
But the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) alliance, headed by ex-leaders of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, and their allies reportedly thwarted the advance.
Four HTS and two other opposition fighters were killed in the clashes in a rural area of Latakia province, the monitor said.
The HTS-led alliance also controls large areas of Idlib province and slivers of territory in neighboring Aleppo and Hama.
The region they hold is home to some 3 million people, nearly half of whom have been displaced from other parts of the country.
Syria’s 9-year-old war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced nearly half of the country’s pre-war population.
The opposition-held area is a regular target of attacks by regime forces and their Russian and Iranian allies.
A Russian-backed regime offensive between December and March displaced nearly a million people in the region.
A Moscow-backed cease-fire agreement in March has reduced violence in the area, but shelling and airstrikes by the regime and its backers continue.
Russian airstrikes on the town of Binnish in Idlib province killed three people from the same family on Monday, according to the Observatory. An AFP photographer saw plumes of smoke rising from the site of the attack.

Golan Heights Activity
The Israeli military said it thwarted an infiltration attempt from Syria early on Monday staged by four suspected militants it accused of trying to plant explosives.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Israeli troops earlier spotted “irregular” activity in the Golan Heights. Israeli troops opened fire on the suspected militants, some of whom were armed, after observing them placing the explosives on the ground, Conricus said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Forces loyal to Bashar Assad had launched an attack with artillery and heavy gunfire in Syria’s last major opposition bastion.

• The opposition-held area is a regular target of attacks by regime forces and their Russian and Iranian allies.

There was no official confirmation that the four suspected attackers were killed but a grainy video released by the army shows four figures walking away from barbed wire marking the frontier. The four then disappear in a large explosion that engulfs the area.
The Israeli military has not said if the four are suspected of ties to Iran or Hezbollah, two Syrian allies. However, Conricus said Israel held the Syrian regime responsible for the incident.
Addressing Likud party lawmakers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel “thwarted an attempted sabotage on the Syrian front” and would continue to “harm all those who try to harm us and all those who harm us.”
The incident comes amid heightened tension on Israel’s northern frontier following a recent Israeli airstrike that killed a Hezbollah fighter in Syria. Following the airstrike, the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights was hit by explosives fired from Syria and Israel responded by attacking Syrian military positions and beefing up its forces in the area.
Israel has been bracing for further retaliation and last week it said it thwarted an infiltration attempt from Lebanon by Hezbollah militants, setting off one of the heaviest exchanges of fire along the volatile Israel-Lebanon frontier since a 2006 war between the bitter enemies.