‘Russian’ bombardment threatens Syrian cease-fire

Syrian men look at a destroyed sheep pen following a Russian airstrike in the village of Al-Daher in Syria's northwestern Idlib province on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 12 September 2019

‘Russian’ bombardment threatens Syrian cease-fire

  • UN investigators link US, Syrian and Russian forces to war crimes

BEIRUT, GENEVA: Jets believed to be Russian bombed opposition-held areas in northwest Syria on Wednesday amid increased shelling of towns by the Syrian army that threatened the collapse of a fragile Russian-brokered cease-fire, two opposition sources and residents said. The jets that flew overnight at high altitudes struck a village near Kafr Takhareem and an area near the town of Darkoush, both in rural areas in western Idlib province, two opposition sources and a resident in the area said.
The overnight bombing raid came hours after airstrikes hit a part of the northwest for the first time since the truce was declared 11 days ago, according to activists and a monitor. Moscow denied conducting the first strikes.
Russia said the Syrian regime unilaterally agreed to a truce on Aug. 31 in opposition-controlled Idlib, where a “de-escalation zone” was brokered two years ago between Russia and Turkey.
The opposition says Russian special forces and Iranian-backed militias fighting alongside the Syrian forces have also breached the cease-fire by trying several times to storm opposition-held areas in the last week only to be repelled so far.

UN report
Meanwhile, UN investigators said on Wednesday that airstrikes by US-led coalition forces in Syria have killed or wounded many civilians, indicating that required precautions were ignored and war crimes may have been committed.


The opposition says Russian special forces and Iranian-backed militias fighting alongside the Syrian army have also breached the cease-fire by trying several times to storm rebel-held areas in the last week only to be repelled so far.

Syrian regime and allied Russian warplanes are also conducting a deadly campaign that appears to target medical facilities, schools, markets and farmland and which may also amount to war crimes, the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said.
The investigators also accused Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, an opposition alliance formerly known as Nusra Front that is the dominant armed group in Idlib, of firing rockets indiscriminately and killing civilians.
The eight-year-old war has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and forced 13 million people from their homes, half of whom have left their shattered homeland.
Backed by US-led coalition air power in a fight to oust Daesh, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which include Kurdish fighters, retook the group’s last major stronghold of Hajjin in eastern Syria in late December.
The coalition’s Al-Jazeera Storm operation resulted in a high number of civilian casualties, including in a series of strikes on Jan. 3 in Sha’fah, south of Hajjin, that killed 16 civilians including 12 children, the UN report said.
“The Commission finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that international coalition forces may not have directed their attacks at a specific military objective, or failed to do so with the necessary precaution,” it said.
“Launching indiscriminate attacks that result in death or injury to civilians amounts to a war crime in cases in which such attacks are conducted recklessly,” it added.
Coalition officials could not be reached immediately for comment on the report.
Night raids by SDF forces backed by coalition helicopter gunships killed and wounded civilians in Shahil and other parts of Deir Ezzor province, in further apparent violations of international law, the investigators said.
Syrian regime forces carried out repeated airstrikes in Saraqib, in northwest Idlib province on March 9, damaging Al-Hayat women’s and children’s hospital, despite pro-regime forces being aware of its coordinates, the report said.
In Idlib on May 14, pro-regime forces “airdropped between two and four missiles on a fish market and primary school for girls in Jisr Al-Shughur,” killing at least 8 civilians, it said.
“Such attacks may amount to the war crime of deliberately attacking protected objects and intentionally attacking medical personnel,” it said.
The Syrian army denies its strikes target civilians and says its forces only bomb militants associated with hard-line groups linked to Al-Qaeda.
The report covers the year to July and is based on nearly 300 interviews and analysis of satellite imagery, photographs and videos.

Leaked audio of Assad forces shooting elderly women in Idlib proves civilian killings: Report

Updated 35 min 10 sec ago

Leaked audio of Assad forces shooting elderly women in Idlib proves civilian killings: Report

  • Syrian regime also attacked Turkish military posts in violation of cease-fire deal

LONDON: Syrian regime forces deliberately killed elderly women in the northwestern region of Idlib, leaked recordings obtained by the UK’s Daily Telegraph have shown.

The audio recordings from Feb. 11 also suggest that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad attacked Turkish military posts in violation of a cease-fire deal.

The recordings captured a conversation between soldiers from the infamous elite Tiger Forces, the 25th Division, tracking a vehicle driving into the village of Mizanaz, to the west of Aleppo.

In the audio, intercepted by spotters at an observatory in the local area who picked up the soldiers’ frequency, one soldier can be heard saying: “There are women driving, their car is stuck in the mud and they’re headed to a battlefield.”



A second soldier said: “She looks elderly. It’s clear she’s coming to pack her belongings, then she’s leaving.”

Despite a clear identification of the women, one of the soldiers is heard saying: “I’m watching them. They’re about to enter a house. Yallah, I’m firing now.”

At that point, rapid machine gun fire can be heard on the tape. “Fire, fire, I’m observing for you,” the second soldier replies.

Local media reports from the time and date of the audio recording support the assertion that the women were killed in the attack.

Regime forces have used attacks on civilians as part of their strategy to clear rebel-held areas of the country, while attacking civilian institutions such as schools and hospitals. 

In September 2019, pro-Assad militants reportedly executed an elderly woman who refused to leave her home when it was confiscated after they recaptured the town of Khan Sheikhoun. 

According to figures from the Syrian Network for Human Rights, regime forces and their Russian allies are responsible for 90 percent of civilian deaths in the nine-year conflict, with three-quarters of those people victims of artillery or aerial shelling. The deliberate killing of non-combatants is a war crime under international law.

The Telegraph’s report also revealed recordings showing regime forces actively attacking Turkish posts in Idlib province that were set up as part of a de-escalation deal negotiated with Russia in 2018.

The attacks prompted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday to urge his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to “restrain” Assad’s advance in Idlib.