Damascus Syrian and allied Russian troops have targeted hospitals and schools in Syria, according to a report by the human rights organization Amnesty International. Between May 2019 and February 2020, the two armed forces carried out at least 18 such attacks in the northwest of the civil war country. The Amnesty report released on Monday speaks of attacks on five clinics that should have subsequently closed.
The 40-page report is based on interviews with more than 70 people, including eyewitnesses, displaced people, doctors, teachers, humanitarian workers and UN officials. For Amnesty, the researchers also evaluated photos and videos, as well as satellite data, radio communications and information from aircraft observers. The UN agencies in Syria and Russia did not respond to requests from the organization regarding the allegations.
According to Amnesty’s research, two of the 18 attacks on schools and hospitals included two with internationally outlawed barrel bombs by Syrian troops. There were also air strikes by Syrian and Russian jets. Amnesty speaks of “serious violations of international humanitarian law”, war crimes and crimes against humanity. They are part of an “established method” of the government of President Bashar al-Assad in the more than nine-year civil war.
The Russian and Syrian air strikes repeatedly hit hospitals and other vital infrastructure in Syria. Russia is an important ally of the Syrian government in the conflict. Russian jets had started attacks on (mostly Islamist-controlled) rebel areas in September 2015. With Russian help, the government has managed to take back important areas.
Attacks on civilian facilities are also a regular topic in the UN Security Council. Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas branded the attacks by Syrian troops and Russia on the civilian population in February as war crimes and called for consequences. Assad and Russia “bomb civil infrastructure,” said Maas at a meeting of the highest UN body.
“I know the sound of cluster bombs very well”
“I felt so helpless,” a doctor told Amnesty, who survived an air raid on a hospital in Ariha, Idlib province in late January. Eleven civilians were killed, including one of his colleagues. “My friend and colleague dying, children and women screaming outside – we were all paralyzed.” It had taken civil protection two days to recover the bodies from the ruins of the destroyed residential buildings near the clinic.
A teacher told Amnesty how a cluster bomb injured her and killed a student in front of her. “I know the sound of cluster bombs very well,” she said of the attack in Idlib in late February. “You hear a series of small explosions. As if it was raining shards of rock instead of water from the sky.
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