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Syrian, Russian air strikes in Idlib amount to war crimes: UN

UN Commission on Syria also accused militant group HTS of torture and indiscriminate attacks against civilians
Russia denied it struck the Al-Shami hospital in Ariha which served the entire population in the Ariha district (MEE/Ali Haj Suleiman)

A United Nations investigation has concluded that Syrian and Russian air strikes on schools, hospitals and markets in Idlib province amounted to war crimes. 

UN investigators condemned the "indiscriminate bombardment" by pro-government forces between November 2019 and June 2020 that led to the displacement of nearly one million civilians and claimed the lives of hundreds of people fleeing for their lives. 

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria also accused Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a militant group that controls part of northwest Syria, of firing artillery into civilian areas "with no apparent legitimate military objective".

Fighters from HTS,  formerly known as Nusra Front, have tortured and executed detainees, it added.

"Children were shelled at school, parents were shelled at the market, patients were shelled at the hospital…and entire families were bombarded even while fleeing,” Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the commission said in a statement. 

"What is clear from the military campaign is that pro-government forces and UN-designated terrorists flagrantly violated the laws of war and the rights of Syrian civilians.”

The UN commission report was based on overflight data and witness testimony.

It examined 52 "emblematic attacks" in northwest Syria, including 47 attributed to the Russian-backed Syrian government.

The report stated that Russia was solely responsible for an air strike on 5 March on a poultry farm near Maarat Misrim that sheltered displaced people and three strikes on a hospital in a rebel-held town of Ariha on 29 January. 

Middle East Eye reported on 30 January that suspected Russian warplanes had struck Al-Shami hospital and a medical clinic in Ariha, where medical workers described the scene as "hopeless".

"We had to pull children out of the rubble and work quickly before the area was struck again," Walid Aslan, the local director of the civil defence unit in Ariha told MEE at the time. 

Russia had denied its involvement in the air strikes on medical facilities in Ariha.