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Syrian Civilians Despair as Peace Prospects Evaporate, UN Panel Says

  • Lisa Schlein

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian security forces, emergency services and residents look at the remains of burned vehicles at the site of a bombing in Tartus, Syria, Sept. 5, 2016.

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian security forces, emergency services and residents look at the remains of burned vehicles at the site of a bombing in Tartus, Syria, Sept. 5, 2016.

U.N. investigators warned Tuesday that a resurgence of violence in the war in Syria during the past six months were crushing hopes for peace in that country.

The four-member Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which submitted its 12th periodic report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, said that a marked surge in fighting, with casualties mounting at an alarming rate and civilians unable to flee from daily airstrikes, had left Syrians in a state of despair.

It said the cessation-of-hostilities agreement in February had resulted in a short period of calm, which gave rise to hopes that a political settlement to the five-year conflict could be attained.

The report, however, said the lull in the fighting had given way to relentless attacks and sieges against civilians by all warring parties since the end of March, which show no signs of abating.

“That is a great shame and injustice vis-à-vis the civilian population, innocent people," commission member Vitit Muntarbhorn told VOA. "And that is why we are very much emphasizing the need to get back to the negotiation table.”

The report documented indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilian-inhabited areas, particularly by aerial bombardments, mainly carried out by pro-government forces, including Syria’s ally, Russia. It accused anti-government armed groups of indiscriminately shelling civilian areas and taking hostages for ransom.

The document described the brutality of all the warring factions, including the terrorist Islamic State group. It enumerated crimes such as summary executions, enforced disappearances, suicide attacks, the random killing and maiming of civilians, and deliberate targeting of medical facilities.

Interference from outside

Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro said the increasing interference by influential countries and other external actors in the Syrian conflict were complicating peace efforts.

"The violations, the war crimes, the crimes against humanity, they are committed by all the forces involved in the conflict," Pinheiro said. "And we have reiterated many times that those actors that support the actors on the ground, they have shared responsibility.”

Among its many recommendations, the report called for the cessation-of-hostilities agreement to be restored and revitalized, saying civilian casualties must be minimized and random attacks ended.

The independent commissioners urged the warring parties to allow the safe, sustained and unhindered access of humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of people trapped in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.

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