Report: Schools, hospitals hit in attacks by Syrian regime, Russia
The Bashar Assad regime and its backer Russia have been targeting schools and hospitals in air and ground attacks in Syria, Amnesty International said Monday.
Between May 2019 and February 2020, both forces in the northwest of the war-torn country conducted 18 such attacks, the human rights organization said in a report.
The report referenced five medical clinics that were forced to close down after being attacked.
In two of the attacks, the report says, regime troops used the method of barrel bombing, which is internationally banned.
Amnesty said the attacks were “serious violations of international humanitarian law,” war crimes and crimes against humanity.
It said the majority occurred in January and February 2020, during the latest onslaught which from December has killed around 500 civilians and displaced almost a million people.
Nearly a million people have been displaced in a three-month Russian-backed offensive by Syrian regime forces in northwestern Syria, with the United Nations describing it as the worst humanitarian emergency since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
Among the documented attacks were Russian airstrikes near a hospital in the town of Ariha on Jan. 29 that flattened at least two residential buildings and killed 11 civilians, it said.
Amnesty also blamed the Syrian regime for an attack on a school using internationally banned cluster munitions that killed three people in Idlib city on Feb. 25.
“The latest offensive continued an abhorrent pattern of widespread and systematic attacks aimed at terrorizing the civilian population,” Amnesty’s regional director Heba Morayef said.
According to the report, Russia has continued to provide “invaluable” military support, including “directly carrying out unlawful airstrikes” despite evidence that it is facilitating the Syrian regime’s commission of “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
The report is based on interviews with more than 70 people, including eyewitnesses, displaced people, doctors, teachers, humanitarian workers and U.N. staff.
Researchers also evaluated photos and videos for Amnesty, as well as satellite data, radio traffic and data from aircraft observers.
The regime and Russia’s U.N. delegations did not respond to inquiries about the accusations.
A truce since March 6 had largely stemmed from fighting in Syria’s last major opposition stronghold of Idlib after a monthslong regime assault that killed hundreds of civilians and forced almost a million to flee.
The truce brokered by regime ally Russia and moderate opposition backer Turkey has kept Syrian and Russian warplanes out of the region’s skies and largely held despite sporadic clashes or rocket fire.
Tens of thousands have returned to their hometowns. Hundreds of thousands of others remain in crowded displacement camps or in temporary shelters near the Turkish border.
However, despite the ongoing cease-fire, before dawn Sunday, clashes erupted between some opposition groups and pro-regime fighters on the western flank of the region dominated by extremist groups, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The clashes in the Sahl al-Ghab area killed 15 regime fighters as well as seven extremists, including from the al-Qaida-affiliated Hurras al-Deen group, the Britain-based monitor said.
“It’s the highest death toll for fighters since the truce came into force,” said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman, who relies on sources inside Syria.
The Syrian regime has regularly rejected reports of torture and extrajudicial killings in a civil war in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. Assad himself has in the past denied such accusations against the security apparatus.
Attempts by Western powers to set up an international tribunal for the Syrian regime have been blocked by Russia and China at the U.N. Security Council. Syria is also not a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.