France has announced it will ask the international criminal court to investigate possible war crimes committed in Syria’s Aleppo after more than 600 civilians were killed in the Assad-Russian offensive on the besieged city.
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.
There are about 275,000 people trapped by the siege of eastern Aleppo, where civilians are suffering through daily bombing, including by bunker-buster and incendiary weapons, and through starvation, as limited supplies run out and aid convoys are blocked from the city.
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.
“We do not agree with what Russia is doing, bombarding Aleppo. France is committed as never before to saving the population of Aleppo,” Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French foreign minister, told France’s Inter radio on Monday after a French-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria was vetoed at the weekend by Russia.
“These bombings – and I said it in Moscow – are war crimes,” Ayrault said. “It includes all those who are complicit for what’s happening in Aleppo, including Russian leaders.
“We shall contact the International Criminal Court prosecutor to see how she can launch these investigations.”
He said President Francois Hollande will take into account the situation in Aleppo when deciding whether to see his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin when the latter visits Paris on October 19.
“If the president decides [to see Putin], this will not be to trade pleasantries,” Ayrault said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also called for a war crimes investigation last week.
It is unclear how the ICC could proceed given that the court has no jurisdiction for crimes in Syria because it is not a member of the ICC.
It appears the only way for the case to make it to the ICC would be through the U.N. Security Council referral, which has been deadlocked over Syria. Moscow vetoed a French resolution in May 2014 to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC.
“It is very dangerous to play with such words because war crimes also weigh on the shoulders of American officials,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, according to RIA news agency.
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.