UN Paints Syria and Allies as Culprits in 5 Civilian Attacks

UNITED NATIONS (CN) — Eight months after convening a board to probe the attacks, a U.N. investigation found it “highly probable” that the Syrian government or its allies were responsible for multiple 2019 attacks on civilian facilities.

As summarized by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the board reached that conclusion concerning the April 28 attack on Martyr Akram Ali Ibrahim Al-Ahmad Secondary School in Hama, as well as three attacks in Idlib: the Rakaya Primary Health Care Centre on May 3, and the Kafr Nobol Surgical Hospital in Idlib and the Ariha Protection Centre, a child care facility, both in July.

A boy cries after government airstrikes in the town of Ariha, in Idlib province, Syria, on Jan. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)

The board also found it “plausible” that Syria or its allies attacked Kafr Nabutha Primary Health Care Center and Surgical Unit in Hama on May 7.

“The secretary-general noted that he will appoint a senior independent adviser on how to address the Board’s recommendations,” Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for Guterres, said Monday at a press briefing. “He stressed that the impact of the hostilities on civilian and humanitarian sites in northwest Syria is a clear reminder of the importance for all parties to the conflict to observe and ensure respect for international humanitarian law.”

Opposition groups or the jihadist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham had a “probable” link to a May 14 attack that killed 11 people at the Nayrab Palestinian refugee camp in Aleppo, according to the report.

Five of those deaths included children between the ages 6 and 11, with 29 others injured, 19 seriously.

Dujarric reminded the parties of their “obligations at all times to distinguish between civilians and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and to direct attacks only against combatants and military objectives.”

Established in August, the board is investigating incidents that occurred since Russia and Turkey in September 2018 signed a memorandum on stabilization of the situation in the Idlib “de-escalation zone.”

Asked about the Syrian government’s refusal to participate in the inquiry, Dujarric told a reporter: “I think we are, it would have been a much better and much thorough process if all Member States had cooperated fully with the inquiry.”

The board’s full report is confidential but spans 185 pages, according to the Associated Press.

A fraction of that length, Secretary-General Guterres’ 23-page summary contains eight recommendations.

“In order to further strengthen the implementation of international humanitarian law, the United Nations should enhance its awareness raising and capacity building efforts with all parties to the conflict in the northwest of Syria, including armed opposition groups,” it states.

In a letter accompanying the report, Guterres said the Syrian government did not respond to repeated requests to visit the country.

The board said that nobody was killed or injured in the attacks on Martyr Akram Ali Ibrahim Al-Ahmad Secondary School, Rakaya Primary Health Care Center or Kafr Nobol Surgical Hospital.

Damage from airstrikes caused the surgical hospital to close for several days, while the strikes on Ariha Protection Center collapsed its façade, damaged its interior and caused a staff member to sustain minor injuries, according to the report.

Referring to the strike on Martyr Akram Ali Ibrahim Al-Ahmad Secondary School, the report states: “The board was informed that none of the armed groups would come to the school and that the area was civilian. The board was informed that the Education Directorate was part of the opposition administration and was linked to the armed opposition groups, but was nevertheless civilian.”

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