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Amnesty: Syria, Russia committed war crimes in anti-rebel push

By
Don Jacobson
Graffiti is seen on damaged building in war-torn Idlib province in northwest Syria, on April 23.  Photo by Yahya Nemah/EPA-EFE
Graffiti is seen on damaged building in war-torn Idlib province in northwest Syria, on April 23.  Photo by Yahya Nemah/EPA-EFE

May 11 (UPI) -- Syrian government forces have committed a series of humanitarian violations that amount to "war crimes" in its campaign against rebels, Amnesty International said in an analysis Monday.

In a 40-page report titled "Nowhere is Safe For Us," the watchdog said Russian military and Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad carried out a "new wave of horrors" against civilians in the opposition-held northwestern part of the country from May 2019 through March.

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The human rights group said it documented 18 attacks on medical facilities and schools in Idlib, northwestern Hama and western Aleppo provinces -- mostly via airstrikes carried out by Russian and Syrian forces. Syrian fighters were blamed in three ground attacks and two barrel bomb attacks targeting civilians.

In one incident highlighted in the report, 11 civilians including a doctor and at least 30 civilians were injured in a series of airstrikes near al-Shami hospital in Ariha in January.

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"I felt so helpless," a surviving doctor said. "My friend and colleague dying, children and women screaming outside... We were all paralyzed."

"In an all-too-familiar pattern,attacks from the air and the ground repeatedly struck residential areas and crucial infrastructure," Amnesty said in its report. "Yet even by the standards of this calamitous nine-year crisis, the resulting displacement and humanitarian emergency were unprecedented."

Based on its investigations, Amnesty said the attacks were not directed at any specific military objective and violated international prohibitions of direct attack of civilians.

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"These violations amount to war crimes," Amnesty concluded.

Assad's forces and Russian allies conducted an offensive in the region from December until a cease-fire in March. The fighting forced nearly 1 million civilians -- mostly women and children -- to flee toward the Turkish border.

The refugees packed makeshift shelters and camps set up in abandoned buildings and tens of thousands were forced to stay in open areas in freezing temperatures.

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Monday's report said humanitarian workers in northwest Syria are being hampered by the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions imposed by the largest group of rebels controlling the area, the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, which has been designated a terrorist group by the U.N. Security Council.

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