Syrian, Russian airstrikes in Idlib amount to war crimes, as do extremist attacks — UN

Saher al-Ali's family members stand inside their damaged house in the rebel-held town of Nairab, Idlib region, Syria April 17, 2020. Picture taken April 17, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 July 2020

Syrian, Russian airstrikes in Idlib amount to war crimes, as do extremist attacks — UN

  • UN blames Syrian, Russian planes for bombing schools, hospitals and markets in Idlib

GENEVA: Syrian and Russian planes have carried out deadly aerial strikes amounting to war crimes on schools, hospitals and markets in Idlib province, UN investigators said on Tuesday in a report that also condemned attacks by extremist fighters.
They said that “indiscriminate bombardment” by pro-government forces, ahead of a March cease-fire brokered with Turkey, claimed hundreds of lives and forced nearly one million civilians to flee, which may amount to a crime against humanity.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria also accused Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a extremist group that controls part of northwest Syria, of firing artillery into civilian areas “with no apparent legitimate military objective.”
Fighters from HTS, a group formerly known as Nusra Front, have tortured and executed detainees, it added.
“What is clear from the military campaign is that pro-government forces and UN-designated terrorists flagrantly violated the laws of war and the rights of Syrian civilians,” Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN panel, said in a statement.
The report, covering Nov. 2019 until June 2020, was based on overflight data and witness testimony.
It examines 52 “emblematic attacks” in northwest Syria, including 47 attributed to the Russian-backed Syrian government.
Russian warplanes were solely implicated in a deadly March 5 strike on a poultry farm near Marat Misrin that sheltered displaced people and in three strikes next to a hospital damaged in the rebel-held town of Ariha on Jan. 29, the report said. Russia denies involvement in the latter attack, it said.
The region is home to a mix of Islamist militant and opposition groups, many of which fled other parts of Syria as President Bashar Assad, with Russian backing, seized back territory from them.
“The Commission has reasonable grounds to believe that pro-government forces committed the war crimes of deliberately attacking medical personnel and facilities by conducting airstrikes,” it said.
Karen Koning AbuZayd, a panel member, said: “Women, men and children that we interviewed faced the ghastly choice of being bombarded or fleeing deeper into HTS-controlled areas where there are rampant abuses of human rights...
“The acts by HTS members amount to war crimes.”


Lebanese patriarch warns of crisis without a government after Adib steps down

Updated 34 min 35 sec ago

Lebanese patriarch warns of crisis without a government after Adib steps down

  • Al-Rai said Adib’s resignation had ‘disappointed citizens, especially the youth’
  • Frustration at Adib’s failure to form government was voiced by Lebanon’s religious communities

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s top Christian cleric said on Sunday the nation faced “multiple dangers” that would be hard to weather without a government, speaking a day after the prime minister-designate quit following his failed bid to form a cabinet.
Mustapha Adib stepped down on Saturday after hitting a roadblock over how to make appointments in the sectarian system, striking a blow to a French initiative that aimed to haul the nation out of its deepest crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who had pressed Lebanon’s fractious politicians to reach a consensus so that Adib was named on Aug. 31, is to due to speak about the crisis in a news conference in Paris later on Sunday.
Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, leader of the Maronite church, Lebanon’s biggest Christian community, said Adib’s resignation had “disappointed citizens, especially the youth, who were betting on the start of change in the political class.”
Many top politicians, both Christian and Muslim, have held sway for years or even decades. Some are former warlords.
Rai said Lebanon now had to navigate “multiple dangers” without a government at the helm.
Rai’s comments were echoed on the streets of Beirut, where mass protests erupted in 2019 as years of mismanagement, corruption and mounting debts finally led to economic collapse, paralysing banks and sending the currency into freefall.
“There needs to be fundamental change. We need new people. We need new blood,” said 24-year-old Hassan Amer, serving coffee from a roadside cafe in the capital, which was hammered by a huge port blast on Aug. 4 that killed almost 200 people.
In nearby streets, walls were still plastered with graffiti from the protests, including the popular call for sweeping out the old guard: “All of them means all of them.”
Frustration at the failure of Adib, a Sunni Muslim, to form a government was voiced by many across Lebanon’s religious communities. Prime ministers under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system must be Sunnis.
A senior Shiite Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ahmed Qabalan, said on Saturday Adib’s resignation as the economy collapsed could “be described as a disaster,” calling for national unity to deliver reforms, the state news agency reported.
The cabinet formation effort stumbled after Lebanon’s two main Shiite groups, Amal and the heavily armed Iran-backed Hezbollah, demanded they name several ministers, including finance, a key role as the nation draws up a rescue plan.
Saad Al-Hariri, a former prime minister and leading Sunni politician, said in a statement he would not be involved in naming any new premier and said the French plan was “the last and only opportunity to halt Lebanon’s collapse.”
A French roadmap laid out a reform program for a new government to help trigger billions of dollars of international aid.