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UN: Syria Armed Groups Use Global Focus on COVID to Escalate Fighting

A handout picture released by the Syrian Civil Defense rescue workers shows the scene of a fuel truck explosion which killed 36 people including at least six Turkey-backed rebel fighters April 28, 2020, in the northern Syrian city of Afrin.

The U.N.’s top human rights official is warning that armed groups in Syria are using the global focus on COVID-19 to regroup and escalate fighting in the country.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet calls the upsurge in fighting a ticking time-bomb that must not be ignored. She says targeted killings and bombings are taking place throughout the country, many in populated areas, putting civilian lives at risk.

The U.N. human rights office reports nearly all of the attacks have occurred in northern and eastern parts of the country under the control of Turkish forces and their allies or of the opposing Kurdish-led Democratic Forces. It says scores of civilians have been killed from improvised explosive devices since March.

The High Commissioner’s spokesperson, Rupert Colville, says the world’s fixation on the coronavirus pandemic has diverted attention away from Syria’s long-running civil war. This, he said has encouraged various armed groups, including the Islamic State, to regroup and inflict violence on the population.

He told VOA it is hard to know how or why the Islamic State group, which purportedly had been defeated, is re-emerging.

“But they are now clearly coming out and claiming responsibility for some attacks and may have been responsible for other attacks before that …They appear to be active at least in a number of areas in the country …To what extent and how organized they are and how capable they are in continuing to expand their operations is not clear. But they are there and they are acting again,” Colville said.

Syria’s nearly decade-long civil conflict reportedly has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced nearly 12 million — as refugees in neighboring countries or within Syria itself.

U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has called for a global cease-fire. High Commissioner Bachelet echoed this call and says Syria’s various armed groups must do so, as well.

She warned the country risks entering another spiral of extreme and widespread violence if current violations and abuses continue to spread and escalate. She urged Syria’s combatants to end this ongoing mayhem and to give peace a chance.