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UN: Syria air force bombed Aleppo aid convoy

A Syrian government aircraft deliberately bombed a humanitarian convoy, killing 14 aid workers and halting relief operations, UN investigators said today in a report identifying war crimes committed by both sides in Syria's war.

Syrian and Russian forces conducted daily airstrikes on opposition-held eastern Aleppo between July and its fall on 22 December, killing hundreds and destroying hospitals, they said.

Orphanages, schools and homes were "all but obliterated", panel chairman Paulo Pinheiro told a news conference.

Opposition groups shelled government-controlled western Aleppo, killing and injuring dozens, the report said. They prevented civilians from fleeing besieged eastern Aleppo, using them as human shields – a war crime.

"The scale of what happened in Aleppo is unprecedented in the Syrian conflict. Much of Aleppo, once Syria's biggest city and its commercial and culture centre and a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been reduced to rubble," Pinheiro said.

Calls for justice

He called for ensuring that "those responsible for this ruinous situation one day are brought to justice."

His team was ready to share its confidential list of suspected war criminals on all sides with a new UN body on Syria being set up in Geneva to prepare criminal prosecutions.

"It cannot pass without having this step toward justice, because of the great numbers of victims," panel member Carla del Ponte said.

"What we have seen here in Syria, I never saw that in Rwanda, or in former Yugoslavia, in the Balkans. It is really a big tragedy," she added. "Unfortunately we have no tribunal."

Cluster munitions were "pervasively used" and air-dropped into densely populated areas, the report said, amounting to the war crime of indiscriminate attacks.

"We have established very clearly in the report that the Syrian air force is responsible for these attacks, we don't have any evidence linking Russia to those attacks with forbidden chemical weapons," Pinheiro said. The investigators also did not attribute any specific war crime investigated to Russian forces but Pinheiro said they would to assign responsibility "if and when we can prove it".

The UN Commission of Inquiry's report – released as Syrian peace talks continue in Geneva – covers the July-December period and is based on 291 interviews with victims and witnesses, as well as analysis of forensic evidence and satellite imagery.

Deliberate targeting

The investigators accused the Syrian government of a "meticulously planned and ruthlessly carried out" airstrike on a UN and Syrian Red Crescent convoy at Orum Al-Kubra, in rural western Aleppo on 19 September that killed 14 aid workers.

At the time, the Syrian army and Russia denied responsibility for the attack. A previous UN inquiry had been unable to determine who conducted the strike.

"By using air-delivered munitions with the knowledge that humanitarian workers were operating in the location, Syrian forces committed the war crimes of deliberately attacking humanitarian relief personnel, denial of humanitarian aid and attacking civilians," the report said.

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