Syrian soldiers stand guard in the Idlib countryside in northwestern Syria on January 30. File Photo by Youssef Badawi/EPA-EFE
March 2 (UPI) -- United Nations investigators said in a new report Monday they have collected evidence that indicates Russian and Turkish forces may have committed war crimes in Syria's heavily contested northwest.
The report from the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria cited Russian airstrikes in recent months and said Turkish troops killed civilians in Kurdish areas in Idlib province between last July and now. Idlib has seen substantial fighting in recent months, as the Syrian government is seeking to regain the last rebel-held part of the nation.
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have carried out aerial and ground attacks in southern Idlib which have killed and injured scores of civilians and decimated civilian infrastructure, including markets, camps for displaced persons and hospitals, Monday's report said.
There are more than 900,000 refugees fleeing violence in the region, many of whom are sheltering on open ground and creating what the United Nations considers an unprecedented humanitarian crisis rife with human right violations. They include indiscriminate attacks against civilian targets and the use of cluster munitions, the inquiry said.
Monday's report said the most serious violations amount to war crimes. Inquiry chairman Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said witness testimony, video footage and other evidence has confirmed Russian aircraft were involved in two such incidents.
In the first, last July 22, airstrikes at a market and surrounding homes in a densely populated area in Ma'arrat al-Nu'man killed more than 43 civilians and injured more than 100. Witnesses told investigators there were no military targets in the area.
The second occurred last August 16, the report said, and included airstrikes on a compound for displaced civilians in southern Idlib that killed 20 civilians.
"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 said.
The U.N. inquiry said Syrian rebel group Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham was also involved in war crimes, killing civilians in Idlib and using child soldiers. The group, considered a terror group by both Syria and the United Nations, has received Turkish support in its battle against pro-Assad forced in Idlib.