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Syria Facing Economic, Humanitarian Disaster as Violence Escalates: UN Panel

Mahmoud Madarati, 55, poses as he stands near his son whose leg and hand were amputated after sustaining injuries by what Mahmoud says was shelling from government-held areas, northern Syria, March 3, 2022.

A panel of U.N. investigators reports Syria is facing an economic and humanitarian disaster that is likely to worsen as the impact of the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia set in.

The U.N. Syria Commission of Inquiry has been monitoring the human rights situation in Syria since conflict broke out there more than 10 years ago. In its latest report, the three-member commission describes conditions as having reached new levels of hardship. It says 90 percent of the population has been plunged into poverty and depends on humanitarian aid.

Commission member Hanny Megally says the world seems to believe the conflict in Syria is winding down. On the contrary, he says the war actually is on the uptick.

“In the northwest, we see increased shelling and aerial bombardments from the Syrian state and the Russian Federation and shelling from the ground, including, you know, use of indiscriminate weapons but also targeted rockets. Including now, we are seeing the introduction of the Krasnopol rocket into this area," said Megally.

The report finds civilians are being targeted and killed by this sophisticated Soviet-style precision-guided artillery weapon system. It says civilians across the country are being subjected to targeted killings, unlawful detention, and torture.

Megally says the commission worries about the possibility of this conduct being replicated in Ukraine.

“Where indiscriminate attacks on civilians and targeted attacks on medical facilities … the disregard in civilian casualties is one of our biggest concerns in Syria, and I would hope, you know, that is not being repeated in Ukraine," said Megally.

Commission chair Paulo Pinheiro says he and his colleagues also worry about the negative consequences of the Ukraine crisis in Syria.

“Inflation is already skyrocketing, and the government has begun rationing essential commodities, including fuel," said Pinheiro. "Prices of imports have shot up, and we should remember that most of Syria’s wheat import comes precisely from Ukraine and Russia.”

The report says 10 years of devastating warfare has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced half of the pre-war population. It says more than 100,000 people are missing or forcibly disappeared.

The commissioners say the Syrian people have seen their country destroyed and cannot take much more of this. While all eyes are on the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, they say attention also must be paid to the Syrians, whose plight must not be ignored.