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U.N. human rights chief alarmed by spike in bombings in Syria buffer zone

By Clyde Hughes
The courtyard of a school is seen damaged in Western Aleppo last year, an area that's covered by a demilitarized buffer zone. File Photo by Mohammed Badra/EPA-EFE
The courtyard of a school is seen damaged in Western Aleppo last year, an area that's covered by a demilitarized buffer zone. File Photo by Mohammed Badra/EPA-EFE

Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the Syrian government Tuesday to protect civilians from bombings in the demilitarized buffer zone.

OHCHR chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement Syrian civilians are being killed by repeated bombings and others feel trapped by violence while living in inhumane conditions in Idlib and other areas of northern Hama and western Aleppo.

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Idlib, parts of northern Hama and western Aleppo are covered by a "demilitarized buffer zone," the OHCHR said. But for more than two months, it's been plagued by general violence and infighting among outside forces.

"Large numbers of civilians ... are living an intolerable existence," Bachelet said. "They are trapped between the escalation of hostilities and bombardment on the one hand, and, on the other, are forced to live under the extremist rule of Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham and other extremist fighters who regularly carry out targeted killings, abductions and arbitrary detention."

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The OHCHR cited two explosions Monday killed 16 civilians in the Qusour neighborhood of Idlib. Last week, it said, shelling in the Ma'arrat An Numan district in southeastern Idlib killed 11, including a boy.

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"I urge all the parties involved to, first and foremost, ensure that civilians themselves, and civilian infrastructure, are protected as required by international humanitarian and international human rights law," Bachelet said. "The principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution must be fully respected, and military objects must not be placed in the vicinity of civilians."

Russia and Turkey agreed last summer to a truce with rebels in the province, which was believed to be the last enclave of armed opposition in western Syria after losing positions in Aleppo, Damascus and Daraa.

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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported Tuesday government forces have been responsible for renewed shelling in Khan Shaykhun and al-Sakhr village.

A few weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a full withdrawal of forces from Syria, saying the militant factions there have been adequately defeated -- a position many in the defense and security sectors have disagreed with.

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