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Russia May Be Guilty of War Crime in Syria, UN Investigators Say

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - In this photo made from the footage taken from the Russian Defense Ministry official website on Nov. 26, 2017, Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers strike Islamic State targets in Syria.

A report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria suggests an attack on a densely populated civilian area in Aleppo by the Russian air force may amount to a war crime.

The report, which covers the past eight months of conflict in Syria, finds all warring parties are committing crimes and violations with impunity. These include deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians and protected objects, starvation, unlawful internment and the use of chemical weapons, it says.

But for the first time since the U.N. commission was established in August 2011, the investigators are intimating Russia may have committed a war crime. The allegation is made in connection with airstrikes by the Russian air force on November 13 on a densely populated civilian area in Atareb, Aleppo.

Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro said verifiable evidence showed the Russian air force used blast weapons, striking a market, police station, shops and a restaurant, killing 84 people and injuring 150 others.

"The law is not so clearly settled regarding the use of unguided blast weapons in civilian areas, which is why we limited our assessment to the finding that the use of such weapons and tactics may amount to a war crime," he said. "We could not confirm the specific target of the attack."

The commissioners also condemned the methods used to defeat Islamic State militants in Raqqa. They noted the successful expulsion of the terrorist group from the city came at an extremely high cost to civilians.

The investigators were particularly critical of an air attack by the U.S.-led coalition on a school, which killed at least 150 internally displaced people sheltering there, including women and children. It accused the coalition of failing to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law.

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