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In the news: Syria attacks constitute ‘war crimes’, says Amnesty

‘The attacks were not directed at a specific military object.’

Men ride on a motorbike near the rubble of damaged buildings in Jabal al-Zawiya in Idlib, Syria, on 12 April. (Khalil Ashawi/REUTERS)

A series of attacks on schools and hospitals carried out by President Bashar al-Assad’s government and its allies in Syria since May 2019 amount to war crimes, says a new report by Amnesty International. 

The 40-page report, published on 10 May, contains details of 18 different attacks on schools and medical facilities in northwest Syria that the international watchdog says “deliberately targeted civilians and civilian objects”.

The majority of the investigated incidents – which occurred in Idlib, Hama, and western Aleppo between 5 May 2019 and 25 February 2020 – were airstrikes that formed part of a military offensive by al-Assad’s regime to take back the last pockets of territory from opposition groups. One attack on a school, which killed three people, used banned cluster munitions. 

“Evidence shows that, in their entirety, the documented attacks by Syrian and Russian government forces entailed a myriad of serious violations of international humanitarian law,” says the report. “The attacks were not directed at a specific military object and they violated the immunity from direct attack of civilians and civilian objects, as well as the special protection afforded to specific persons and objects, particularly medical facilities, medical personnel and children.”

Findings in the report are based on 74 different interviews with eyewitnesses, displaced people, and aid workers, as well as satellite imagery, intercepted aircraft radio communications, and aircraft observation logs. 

The report highlights that the recent government onslaught has resulted in an “unprecedented” humanitarian emergency, pushing an estimated one million people into displacement near the Turkish border. Already overwhelmed aid efforts in the region will be even more difficult to deliver due to resource shortages and movement restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UK-based rights groups’ findings come as a seminal criminal trial begins for two  members of al-Assad’s regime, Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib, who have been charged for war crimes under the principle of universal jurisdiction by German prosecutors. 

– Kylee Pedersen

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