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Amnesty International: Attacks By Damascus, Russian Forces In Syria 'Amount To War Crimes'

Syrian humanitarian volunteers, known as the White Helmets, carry a body retrieved from the rubble following a reported government airstrike on the town of Ariha, one of the locations mentioned in Amnesty's report. (file photo)
Syrian humanitarian volunteers, known as the White Helmets, carry a body retrieved from the rubble following a reported government airstrike on the town of Ariha, one of the locations mentioned in Amnesty's report. (file photo)

Amnesty International says it has documented 18 attacks in northwest Syria carried out by Syrian government and Russian forces over the past year that amounted to war crimes.

The rights group said in a report published on May 10 that the 18 attacks were on medical facilities and schools, and were carried out by either the Syrian government or its Russian ally between May 2019 and February 2020 in Idlib and areas adjoining the rebel stronghold.

Evidence of the attacks entails multiple serious violations of international humanitarian law, according to Amnesty International.

"These violations amount to war crimes," the report says.

The attacks included three ground attacks and two barrel-bomb attacks by Syrian government forces. The remaining 13 attacks were air strikes -- two by Syrian government forces, seven by Russian government forces, and four by Syrian or Russian government forces.

It said the majority occurred in January and February 2020, during the latest onslaught, which Amnesty International said “subjected civilians in opposition-held areas in north-west Syria to a new wave of horrors.”

Since December around 500 civilians have been killed and almost 1 million people have been displaced.

The recent escalation apparently is a continuation of an earlier offensive that began in April 2019 targeting the last pocket under the control of armed opposition groups.

A cease-fire has largely held since early March, but hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced and highly dependent on aid even as the region braces for a possible outbreak of the coronavirus.

'Systematic Attacks'

Among the documented attacks in Amnesty International’s report are Russian air strikes near a hospital in the town of Ariha on January 29 that flattened at least two residential buildings and killed 11 civilians.

Amnesty also blamed the Syrian regime for an attack on a school using banned cluster munitions that killed three people in Idlib city on February 25.

"The latest offensive continued an abhorrent pattern of widespread and systematic attacks aimed at terrorizing the civilian population," Amnesty's regional director Heba Morayef said.

The report said that, even by the standards of the nine-year war, “the resulting displacement and humanitarian emergency were unprecedented.”

It said the attacks must be viewed in the context of a well-established pattern of Syrian government forces targeting civilian infrastructure and civilians that is "part of a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population, therefore constituting crimes against humanity."

Syria's war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

Amnesty International’s findings are based primarily on remote research conducted between January and April 2020. Researchers interviewed 74 people, including direct witnesses of attacks, displaced people, local and international aid workers, and UN staff members.

Researchers also reviewed videos and photographs, analyzed satellite imagery, and obtained logs of aircraft observations by flight spotters on the ground, as well as intercepted aircraft radio communication, to assess consistency with witness accounts.

Amnesty International has sent letters summarizing its findings to the permanent missions of the Syrian and Russian governments to the United Nations in New York and to the largest coalition of armed groups in northwest Syria.

It had not received a response as of 4 May, when its report was finalized.

With reporting by AFP
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