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Call for no-fly zone in Syria after 'fresh war crime' by Assad forces

Amnesty International says alleged chlorine gas attack in Idlib province evidence that Assad is 'committing war crimes with impunity'
A young man lies on a bed at a clinic in the village of Sarmin, in the province of Idlib on 17 March (AFP)

The main umbrella group of Syrian opposition factions on Wednesday urged the UN to establish a no-fly zone in Syria, following an alleged chlorine bomb attack carried out by President Assad’s forces in an opposition-held town.

Najib Ghadbian, the UN representative of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, said individual member states should bypass the deadlocked Council to establish the zone.

"The Security Council has the legal authority and responsibility to take such action. But given the propensity of two of its members recklessly and repeatedly to wield their vetoes in support of the Syrian regime, we must look outside the Security Council for help," said Ghadbian, referring to Russia and China, which have blocked four resolutions addressing the conflict.

The coalition's call came a day after the Syrian government forces allegedly launched a chlorine gas attack on a town in the northwestern province of Idlib, killing a family of six, including three children.

The alleged attack was dubbed a “fresh war crime” by Amnesty International, one of several monitors that have documented repeated use of proscribed weapons by Assad’s forces.

In a statement published on its website titled "Syria: Evidence of a fresh war crime as chlorine gas attack kills entire family," Amnesty said that a family of six people, including three young children, was killed late on Monday in a chlorine gas attack when regime forces dropped four barrel bombs on Sermin and Qminas villages in Idlib province.

"These horrific attacks that resulted in civilians, including small children, suffering excruciating deaths, are yet more evidence that the Syrian government forces are committing war crimes with impunity," said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s director of Middle East and North Africa’s programme.

"The situation in Syria must be referred to the International Criminal Court as a matter of urgency," he added.

The statement follows a report by the organisation released on Tuesday on findings into the deaths of 115 civilians, including 14 children, in government aerial attacks on Raqqa – a stronghold of the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Syria – which took place between 11 and 29 of November 2014.

Moreover, the organisation made reference to a fact-finding mission of the international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which found "compelling confirmation" of constant use of chemical weapons in 2014.

Reports of the fresh attack this week followed a 6 March Security Council resolution that condemned the use of chlorine attacks in Syria.

Ghadbian of the Syrian opposition said on Wednesday that establishing a no-fly zone would guarantee safe areas on the ground to protect civilians, open the way for humanitarian aid, enable refugees to return to Syria and create the conditions needed to fight terrorist groups such as Islamic State.

"Failure to do [this] will prolong the suffering and the loss of innocent Syrian lives, and will allow the direct security threat to the region and the world to become ever more imminent," he said.

The Syrian opposition has repeatedly accused Assad forces of using chemical and toxic weapons against civilians and committing massacres since an August 2013 incident that killed between 300 and 1,400 civilians in the opposition-controlled Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

However, Syrian government officials have denied the allegations, charging that the Ghouta attack was carried out by rebel forces, a claim backed in a controversial report by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

The Syrian civil war, which entered a fifth year this month, has claimed more than 220,000 lives, according to the UN.

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