GENEVA: UN investigators on Tuesday said aerial bombardment by Syrian forces and their ally Russia were mostly to blame for swelling numbers of civilian casualties in Syria’s devastating conflict.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria criticised all parties in the bloody war over a clear increase in “indiscriminate attacks on civilians,” citing attacks on medical workers and facilities, blocked humanitarian convoys, enforced disappearances and summary executions.
Investigator Vitit Muntarbhorn told reporters that aerial bombardments by “pro-government forces … cause the most civilian casualties and damage to the civilian infrastructure, particularly in Idlib and Aleppo.”
When asked to clarify who exactly the “pro-government forces” referred to, commission chief Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said “the forces that are in the air are Russian and Syrian forces.”
The upsurge in violence in Syria since late March is especially regrettable, the investigators added, since it came after a ceasefire agreed in February offered a brief “glimmer of hope” to civilians who have endured five-and-a-half years of civil war.
“The cessation of hostilities agreement brought a welcome respite for civilians that lasted all too briefly,” the commission said in its 12th report, covering the period from January 10 to July 20 this year.
The team emphasised the need to restore the ceasefire, insisting that “the sense of hope engendered earlier this year must be revitalised.”
The report was published after US President Barack Obama and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held talks on Syria on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in China this week, which were described as “productive”.
But the two powers failed to produce an expected deal to ease the violence in Syria, where more than 290,000 people have been killed and more than half the population displaced since March 2011.
The UN commission has repeatedly accused the various sides of a wide range of war crimes and in some cases crimes against humanity.
Tuesday’s report charged that “unlawful killings, including deaths in detention, and summary executions remain a hallmark of this blood-soaked conflict.”
And for people detained especially by government forces, torture and sexual abuse appear to be the norm.
“It is extremely rare to find an individual who has been detained by the government who has not suffered severe torture,” it said.
The commission voiced particular concern over the growing number of attacks on hospitals and medical workers over the past six months, pointing to the dire impact on access to desperately needed medical care in many places.
Bombardments by pro-government forces were mostly to blame, it said, pointing out in a statement that such bombings had destroyed more than 20 hospitals and clinics in the Aleppo governorate alone since January.
Lift the sieges
The investigators also called for an end to the numerous sieges around the country, which have trapped nearly 600,000 people in often-horrific conditions.
And they expressed deep concern over the fate of “at least 300,000 civilians” in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, which was once again completely encircled by government troops on Monday.
The commission also said it was investigating allegations that chemical weapons had been used in the city, saying it had received “reliable information on the use of chlorine gas” on April 5, during the bombing of the Sheikh Maqsoud neighbourhood.
In addition, Muntarbhorn said the team was investigating allegations of chemical weapons use in the country last month, but provided no further details.
A separate UN investigative panel concluded last month that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had carried out at least two chemical attacks, one in 2014 and one in 2015.
It also found that Islamic State jihadists had used mustard gas to attack Marea town in northern Aleppo province in August 2015. AFP