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US-led coalition may have committed war crimes in Syria, says Amnesty

Buildings and roads in ruin after air strikes were carried out in Syria on 25 September 2017 [Hadi Kharat/Anadolu Agency]

The US-led coalition fighting Daesh in Syria may have committed war crimes, a report by Amnesty International has found. According to the rights group, there was “a strong prima facie case that many coalition attacks that killed and injured civilians and destroyed homes and infrastructure violated international humanitarian law”.

The accounts detailed in the report, “War of annihilation: Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa – Syria, contradict the coalition’s claim that its forces had taken the necessary precautions to minimise civilian casualties. The report focused on four families, which the authors say are “emblematic” in highlighting the brutal impact and devastation caused by the aerial bombardment.

Between 90 relatives and neighbours from the four families were killed during the American, British and French strikes on the city of Raqqa, from June to October 2017. Thirty-nine were killed from a single family – almost all of them killed by coalition air strikes.

Neighbourhoods were “decimated” in the campaign which the the former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described was a “war of annihilation”. The destruction caused by the shelling, the report found, was “part of a wider pattern and provide a strong prima facie case” that international law had been violated.

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“When so many civilians are killed in attack after attack, something is clearly wrong, and to make this tragedy worse, so many months later the incidents have not been investigated. The victims deserve justice,” said Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International.

Rovera was deeply sceptical over the coalition’s claim that it had taken the necessary precaution to avoid civilian casualties.

The coalition’s claims that its precision air campaign allowed it to bomb IS [Daesh] out of Raqqa while causing very few civilian casualties do not stand up to scrutiny.

“On the ground in Raqqa we witnessed a level of destruction comparable to anything we’ve seen in decades of covering the impact of wars.”

Amnesty’s report is based on the conduct of American, British and French forces, detailing the coalition’s operations to oust Daesh from its so-called “capital” Raqqa. The air strikes – 90 per cent of which were carried out the by the US -killed and injured thousands of civilians and destroyed much of the city, the report found. Homes, private and public buildings and infrastructure were reduced to rubble or damaged beyond repair.

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The report cited a senior US military official who said that “more artillery shells were launched into Raqqa than anywhere since the Vietnam war.”

Amnesty researchers visited 42 coalition air strike sites across the ruined city and interviewed 112 civilian residents who had survived the carnage and lost loved ones.

The report concludes that the coalition strikes detailed in the report are examples of wider patterns. The rights group has written to the defence officials in the US, UK and France seeking additional information about these cases and about other attacks.

Amnesty has urged coalition members to investigate impartially and thoroughly allegations of violations and civilian casualties, and to publicly acknowledge the scale and gravity of the loss of civilian lives and destruction of civilian property in Raqqa.

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