Syrian regime and Russian forces have carried out at least 18 documented attacks on civilian and non-military targets over the past year which amount to war crimes, the UK-based human rights organisation Amnesty International has stated.
In a report published yesterday, the rights group said the attacks were inflicted by the regime and its ally Russia on medical and educational facilities between May 2019 and February 2020 in the north-west province of Idlib.
They consisted of three ground attacks and two barrel-bomb strikes by Syrian regime forces, and 13 other attacks by air strikes – two of which were conducted by the regime, seven by Russian forces and four by both allies. The majority of these attacks, according to Amnesty, was carried out in the months of January and February this year and “subjected civilians in opposition-held areas in north-west Syria to a new wave of horrors,” as part of the latest round of the regime’s offensive to capture the province which is the last major stronghold of the Syrian opposition.
The Syrian regime’s offensive and its bombardment on Idlib’s civilian population, which was launched in April 2019, came to a head in February this year when regime forces killed 34 Turkish soldiers, causing the Turkish military to severely punish the regime and force it to halt the offensive. A deal was then struck between Turkey and Russia, Syria’s ally, to enforce a ceasefire and establish a safe zone along the strategic M4 highway.
Since then, clashes have broken out and shelling has been conducted from both regime forces and opposition forces, but the ceasefire has not officially been declared as broken.
The rights group stated that the evidence and documentation of these attacks, with countless more remaining undocumented, amounts to severe violations of international humanitarian law and “these violations amount to war crimes”.
Among the examples of the atrocities committed in the attacks on civilian targets, was that of a series of Russian air strikes near a hospital in the town of Ariha on 29 January, in which 11 civilians were killed when at least two residential buildings were destroyed. Another example was an attack by the regime on 25 February in Idlib city, in which three people were killed as a school was bombed by cluster munitions – banned under international law.
The Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad and its ally Russia have long been known to attack civilian targets indiscriminately, but this report is the latest revelation that has officially confirmed such attacks. The publication stated that “the resulting displacement and humanitarian emergency were unprecedented,” and that the regime’s trend of attacking civilian and medical infrastructure is “part of a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population, therefore constituting crimes against humanity.”