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UN urges US to conduct 'credible' probe into casualties of Syria air strikes

Investigators also warn that western sanctions have left ordinary Syrians vulnerable to rising prices
People bury the victims of shelling by Syrian government forces in village of Maaret al-Naasan in rebel-held Idlib province, on 12 February 2022 (AFP)

UN war crimes investigators on Wednesday urged the US to carry out "credible, independent and impartial" investigations into civilian casualties caused by US air strikes in Syria.

The UN Commission of Inquiry said the years-long conflict had escalated in the last several months with intensified shelling and aerial bombing by Syrian and Russian forces on rebel-held areas.

The panel said there had been 14 deadly attacks in the second half of 2021 with drones and more sophisticated weapons such as Krasnopol-type precision-guided artillery being used by President Bashar al-Assad’s government and its Russian ally.

The investigators, who have been documenting the war since it began, reiterated their criticism of US investigations into air strikes that led to civilian casualties, arguing they were "not up to scratch". 

"The [US] investigations have been from our perspective not sufficient," said Hanny Megally, a member of the panel.

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"We are saying with the US, the investigations are not up to scratch and we are concerned about some of the tactics and strategies. The other parties often completely deny when the evidence is there or don't carry out investigations."

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In November, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a review of a 2019 strike in the Syrian town of Baghuz that caused civilian casualties, the Pentagon said at the time.

A report by the New York Times revealed that the strike had killed up to 64 women and children during the battle against fighters from the Islamic State (IS) group.

The UN panel also called for a review of western sanctions on Syria to allow in more humanitarian aid and mitigate the impact on civilians grappling with shortages.

They warned that families in Syria were suffering the effects of rampant inflation that hit 140 percent at the start of 2022; and that the war in Ukraine left them vulnerable to even higher prices, with a disruption of wheat imports looming due to the fighting.

"Our worry is that it's not a war that is coming to an end, it is actually on the uptick again," Megally said.

"In the northwest, we've seen increased shelling and aerial bombardments from the Syria state and the Russian Federation and shelling from the ground, including use of indiscriminate weapons but also targeted rockets."

More than 11 years of war has wrought unfathomable destruction in Syria, with millions pushed into poverty and most households struggling to scrape together enough to secure their next meal.

According to the UN, more than half the pre-war population of 23 million remains displaced, including more than five million who are refugees, mostly in neighbouring countries.

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