ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The UN has for the first time published evidence of Russia’s bombing campaign of civilian areas in Idlib as war rages on in the province.
The latest report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, based on over 200 interviews conducted both in Syria and Geneva , focuses on two separate incidents in July and August last year, providing substantial evidence Russia bombed civilian areas in the northwest of the country.
This is the first time that the UN has shared evidence of Moscow’s direct role targeting civilians in Syria, and comes amid an ongoing Russian-backed government offensive to reclaim rebel-held territory in Idlib province.
Bordering the southern flank of Turkey, Idlib is the last holdout of the anti-regime opposition in Syria. Damascus launched an offensive to retake the territory in December 2019, causing one of the worst humanitarian disasters of the entire conflict.
The Commission verified Russian aircraft involvement in airstrikes in Marret al-Numan, Marat al-Harma, Janudiyah village (Jisr al-Shughur), a medical point located near Al-Khasra, and Al-Bara on July 22, 2019.
“The air strikes killed more than 43 civilians, including 3 girls and 1 boy, and injured at least 109, including 18 children and 15 women. At least 2 four-storey residential buildings and 25 shops were destroyed,” according to the Commission.
“Witnesses recounted that there were no military objectives in the vicinity of the [Maaret al-Numan] market,” adding that flight communications intercepted by the commission confirm a Russian military presence in the area at the time.
“Medical staff described how victims had been brought to a nearby hospital with missing limbs, while others had arrived in various stages of disfigurement,” the report detailed.
The second incident detailed was the August 16 bombing of a compound housing displaced civilians two kilometers from Haas, in the Maaret al-Numan district.
“The attack killed 20 people, including 8 women, one of whom was pregnant, and 6 children, and injured at least 40 others,” the report has found.
“Based on the evidence available, including witness testimonies, video footage, data imagery as well as reports by flight spotters, flight communication intercepts and early warning observation reports, the Commission has reasonable grounds to believe that a Russian aircraft participated in each incident described above,” it added.
In both incidents, the Russian Air Force did not direct the attacks at a specific military objective, amounting to the war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas,” the report detailed.
Moscow has yet to respond to the report.
As many as 900,000 civilians have fled for their lives as clashes escalate in the region.
Russian and regime bombardment has continued as Damascus races to reclaim territory, also contending with Turkish forces in the province.
Violence has escalated in recent days between the Russian-backed regime forces and Turkey.
The UN has urged all sides to allow access for aid agencies to be able to dispatch food, water and medical assistance to the affected.
“The immediate priority must be for all civilians to have access to the food, water and medical assistance they urgently require. Facilitating access for monitors and protection actors is also key to safeguard the rights of civilians,” said commissioner Karen Koning Abu Zayd.
“I urge all parties to the conflict to engage in good faith dialogue to bring an end to this tragic conflict and to allow unfettered humanitarian aid and assistance through to all people in need immediately”, added Commission of Inquiry Chair Paulo Pinheiro.