The fighting in the Idlib region in northwestern Syria has seen numerous war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity committed in late 2019 and early 2020, according to the UN. Both the Syrian government forces and their Russian allies, as well as jihadist rebel groups, are responsible for numerous atrocities, according to a report by a United Nations commission of inquiry.
The period from November 1 to April 30 was examined. The report documents 52 attacks based on almost 300 interviews as well as photo and video material. The region around the city of Idlib is the last major rebel area of the civil war country. It is dominated by the HTS militia (Haiat Tahrir al-Sham), an al-Qaeda branch.
The soldiers of the Bashar al Assad regime, with Russian support, launched an offensive against the last region in the country held by rebel and jihadist groups in December 2019. A fragile ceasefire negotiated by Turkey and Russia entered into force in early March. Turkey supports the rebels in the conflict.
Syrian government troops in particular have systematically attacked dozens of clinics, schools and markets in the rebel area, according to UN investigators. The targets have been bombed from the air and from the ground, the report said on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council, including entire families, according to the head of the commission, Paulo Pinheiro. The government troops also used cluster munitions. Such attacks, regardless of civilians, would amount to war crimes, the authors write.
The militant Islamist militia HTS accuses the UN of arbitrarily bombarding governmental areas. More than 200 civilians were killed in the process. The terrorists have also ransacked and arrested, tortured and killed civilians. The UN experts accuse them of "looting, detention, torture and execution of civilians, including journalists". These crimes would also amount to war crimes.
Attacks on hospitals part of the strategy
HTS has "bombarded indiscriminately populated areas and spread civilian terror to government-controlled areas," the report said. People had the choice of either being bombed or fleeing to areas controlled by the HTS, where they had been exposed to human rights violations and inadequate supplies.
The investigated incidents suggested that attacks on clinics were part of the government's war strategy, the report said. Witnesses also reported attacks on markets in the vicinity of which there were no military targets. In one case, investigators also blamed Syria's allies Russia for air strikes in an area near a hospital in the city of Ariha. At least 14 civilians, including a doctor, died in late January.
Syrian opponents of the regime and aid organizations have long accused the government and Russia of targeted attacks on hospitals and other vital infrastructure. Since the beginning of the Syria conflict in 2011, between 380,000 and 500,000 people have been killed. At the beginning, poison gas was also used as a weapon, the UN blames Assad for it. The government supporters now control around two thirds of the country, including the big cities. More than half of the population has been displaced within the country or has fled to neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey.