Bombing of Idlib by Russia and Syria amounts to war crime, says rights group

The bombing of civilians and infrastructure in the Syrian opposition-held province of Idlib by Russia and the Syrian regime may amount to a war crime, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said in a report released today.

In “Targeting Life in Idlib” the rights group presents its investigation of the air and ground strikes on Idlib conducted by Russia and the Assad regime during their offensive against the final major opposition stronghold between April 2019 and March 2020.

According to HRW’s global head Kenneth Roth when he spoke to Reuters, the joint offensive by Russia and Assad hit hospitals, schools, markets, and residential areas. “Not just inadvertently, not while they were trying to target the so-called terrorists, but deliberately.”

Those “unlawful” strikes, he said, aimed “to drive out civilians and make their lives unliveable in the hope that it will then be easier for Russian and Syrian troops to recapture the territory.”

The almost year-long bombing campaign, which killed hundreds of civilians and displaced one and a half million people, ended in March this year. That’s when the Assad regime killed 34 Turkish soldiers which prompted Turkey to launch brutal retaliation with drone strikes, devastating the Syrian forces.

As a result, the offensive on Idlib was pushed back and a ceasefire deal was struck between Russia and Turkey which is still officially in place, despite continued fighting between the regime and opposition groups.

HRW’s report also named ten senior Russian and Syrian figures who were “command responsible”, including Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. “It’s really only by following up and ensuring that these people who have overseen these war crimes do not get away with impunity [that they will know] that there are consequences for pursuing this war crime strategy,” said Roth.

Despite previous condemnations by rights groups of their war crimes and civilian casualties, both Russia and the Assad regime have constantly denied such accusations. The offensive on Idlib and its population, they maintain, is against “terrorists”.

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