UN setting up group to investigate hospital bombings
BEIRUT: Regime and Russian fire has killed at least six civilians in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province, a war monitor said yesterday, two weeks after Moscow declared a ceasefire in the jihadist-dominated region. The truce, which brought a halt to four months of devastating bombardment on Idlib province by the government and its ally Russia, had largely held apart from sporadic artillery fire and air strikes. But on Tuesday, Russia carried out its first air strikes in the area since the ceasefire began, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
On Friday, regime rocket fire on the towns of Maaret Al-Numan and Kafranbel in southern Idlib province killed five civilians including a child, the Observatory said. A sixth civilian was killed in a Russian air strike in the rural west of the province, it added. That brought to 11 the number killed since the ceasefire came into effect, according to the Britain-based monitor, which has a network of contacts across the war-torn country.
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate controls most of Idlib as well as parts of neighboring Aleppo and Latakia provinces. The region of around three million people, many of them dispaced by fighting in other areas, is one of the last holdouts of opposition to forces backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Observatory on Saturday reported regime fire in various parts of southern Idlib, including close to a Turkish military observation post.
Russian air raids have also targeted hardline jihadists in Idlib’s western countryside and nearby parts of Latakia, it said. The ceasefire is the second since Damascus escalated its operations in the area in April, which have since left at least 980 civilians dead, according to Observatory figures, and which the UN says have forced more than 400,000 people to flee.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced Friday he is setting up an internal investigation into the bombing of hospitals in Syria which had previously flagged their coordinates to avoid air strikes. Guterres said in a statement the board would look at “a series of incidents that have occurred in northwest Syria” since the establishment of the so-called “Idlib de-escalation zone” in September last year by Russia and Turkey.
The committee is not a “criminal investigation” but aimed to “establish the facts for the secretary general,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. The board, headed by Nigerian General Chikadibia Obiakor, will start its work on September 30 but no deadline was given for it to submit its findings.
Several dozen medical facilities with links to the UN have been damaged or destroyed by bombs this year. Russian has denied deliberately targeting civilian installations. Human Rights Watch urged the new board to “work quickly to attribute attacks on medical facilities and other humanitarian sites in Syria to the forces who committed them” and called on Guterres to publish the findings.
Ten members of the UN Security Council called on Guterres in July to establish an investigative body, angering Russia, diplomatic sources said. The British ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, hailed the establishment of the investigative committee. “Developments in Hama and Idlib governorates in northwest Syria show a repeat of the military tactics deployed by Syrian forces in the taking of Aleppo city and eastern Ghouta,” she warned, adding her support to a resolution being thrashed out since August for a ceasefire in the northwest.
Diplomatic sources said that while Russia is taking part in the discussions on a ceasefire resolution, it deems such a move unnecessary since a ceasefire was declared last year by Moscow and Damascus. Russia is also seeking to insert clauses in the text excluding “anti-terrorist” operations from any ceasefire deal, something western countries oppose, the same sources said. – Agencies