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Syrian and Russian officials should face sanctions over Idlib strikes, states HRW

Rights group says analysis of attacks between April 2019 and March 2020 revealed a 'callous disregard for civilian life'
HRW based its report on interviews with more than 100 victims and witnesses, analysis of hundreds of photographs and videos taken on the site of attacks and on satellite imagery (AFP)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for sanctions to be imposed upon Syrian and Russian officials over civilian deaths in rebel-held areas.

In a new report about government and Russian air attacks in the northeastern province of Idlib, the last opposition-held stronghold in Syria, the US-based rights group said the parties showed "callous disregard for civilian life".

The 167-page report, entitled "Targeting Life in Idlib", documents 46 air and ground attacks on civilian facilities hit in the province.

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The Syrian military and its Russian ally carried out the attacks - described as "apparent war crimes" that "may amount to crimes against humanity" - between April 2019 and March 2020, killing at least 224 civilians, according to HRW.

The group called for a UN resolution urging member states to impose targeted sanctions on officials responsible for the civilian deaths.

It named 10 Syrian and Russian civilian and military officials at the top of the chain of command behind the abuses against hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure.

"Concerted international efforts are needed to demonstrate that there are consequences for unlawful attacks, to deter future atrocities, and to show that no one can elude accountability for grave crimes because of their rank or position," said HRW executive Kenneth Roth. 

'Repeated unlawful attacks'

HRW stressed that the incidents it researched were only a fraction of the total number of attacks on civilians in that period.

"The Syrian-Russian alliance strikes on Idlib's hospitals, schools, and markets showed callous disregard for civilian life," said Roth.

"The repeated unlawful attacks appear part of a deliberate military strategy to destroy civilian infrastructure and force out the population, making it easier for the Syrian government to retake control."

The military campaign against the last rebel bastion in the country, home to about three million people - many of whom fled opposition-held towns recaptured by the government - has displaced around a million residents.

A truce reached in early March has largely stemmed the fighting.

HRW based its report on interviews with more than 100 victims and witnesses, analysis of hundreds of photographs and videos taken on the site of attacks and on satellite imagery, it said.