Aleppo: UN warns Russia over brutal attacks against civilians

UN: Attacking hospitals in Aleppo is a war crimes
A civil defense member holds a boy who was buried under the rubble, after Assad-Russian airstrikes on Aleppo

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein warned Russia on Tuesday over the use of incendiary weapons in Syria’s besieged rebel areas of eastern Aleppo.

Assad regime, backed by Russia, said on September 22 it was starting a new wide offensive to recapture the rebel-held parts of Aleppo after a week-long ceasefire was declared officially over on 19 September. the offensive includes a ground assault, artillery bombardment, and intensive airstrikes.

Since 19 September, more than 600 civilians have been killed and more than 2000 injured in rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, including the besieged eastern part of the city, Civil defense workers said.

Three civil defense centers were completely destroyed, and hospitals were repeatedly targeted. One hospital, M10, was targeted three times until it was completely destroyed.

Zeid said that the situation in Aleppo demanded bold new initiatives “including proposals to limit the use of the veto by the permanent members of the Security Council”, which would enable the UN body to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“Such a referral would be more than justified given the rampant and deeply shocking impunity that has characterized the conflict and the magnitude of the crimes that have been committed, some of which may indeed amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he said in a statement.

Syria’s government and its allies had undertaken a “pattern of attacks” against targets with special protection under the international humanitarian law, including medical units, aid workers, and water-pumping stations, he said.

Assad regime and Russian air force used incendiary weapons, barrel bombs, and high destructive bombs called the bunker-busters in shelling the rebel-held areas where more than 250.000 civilians are besieged. They say that they are targeting “terrorist organizations” and deny any civilian casualties.

The use of indiscriminate weapons such as incendiary weapons in heavily populated areas were of particularly grave concern, Zeid said, drawing a parallel with the battles of Warsaw, Stalingrad, and Dresden during World War Two.

“I remind all State parties to Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, including the Russian Federation, that they are strictly prohibited from using incendiary weapons in air strikes on heavily populated areas, and that the use of such weapons by ground forces is severely restricted,” Zeid said.

The rebels’ use of inaccurate “hell-fire cannons”, homemade mortars that fire gas cylinders packed with explosives and shrapnel, was also totally unacceptable, he said.

Designating the enemy as a “terrorist organization” was not an excuse to ignore the laws of war, Zeid said.

The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo this year, and this summer achieved a long-held goal of fully encircling the area.

Recovering full control of the rebels’ last significant urban area would be the most important victory of the war so far for Assad, strengthening his control over Syria’s most populous and strategically important regions.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.

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