Syrian Fighters Increase Attacks on Civilians

Despite the nine-year civil war that has killed more than 380,000 people and forced more than half the country from their homes, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appears to be just as firmly in power as ever.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (SANA via AP)

GENEVA, Switzerland (AFP) — The United Nations on Friday accused the Islamic State and others in Syria of exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to step up attacks on civilians, describing the situation as a “ticking time-bomb.”

United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet lamented a surge in violence in the country already ravaged by nearly a decade of conflict.

“We are receiving more reports every day of targeted killings and bombings from one end of the country to the other, with many such attacks taking place in populated areas,” she said.

The rights chief said the surge in violence comes as the world is focused on halting the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 270,000 people worldwide. 

“Various parties to the conflict in Syria … appear to view the global focus on the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to regroup and inflict violence on the population,” she said, voicing particular concern at increased attacks claimed by IS jihadists.

“The deteriorating situation is a ticking time-bomb that must not be ignored.”

The U.N. rights office said it had documented at least 35 civilian deaths in April due to attacks involving improvised explosive devices, compared to seven in March.

Since March, it said there had been 33 IED attacks, including 26 in residential neighborhoods, while seven other attacks hit markets.

The rights office said that nearly all of the registered IED attacks occurred in northern and eastern parts of the country under the control of Turkish armed forces and their allies, or the opposing Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

It said a fuel-truck bomb exploded on April 28 in a market in the northern Syrian city of Afrin, which killed 51 people, at least 29 of them civilians.

“Syria has been wracked by violence for nearly a decade, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and displacement of millions,” Bachelet said, lamenting that “countless families have been traumatized, and numerous cities, towns, villages and individual homes have been destroyed.”

“If the current patterns of violations and abuses continue to spread and escalate, there is a risk the country will enter another spiral of extreme and widespread violence committed with impunity by all parties to the conflict,” she said. 

The Syrian conflict has killed more than 380,000 people since 2011 and has forced more than half of the country’s prewar population from their homes.

Bachelet backed U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s call for a global ceasefire during the pandemic, and urged all sides in Syria’s conflict to abide by the call.

“I urge all those continuing to fight, kill and displace the battered and beleaguered Syrian people to step back, and give peace a chance.”

© Agence France-Presse

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