GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - U.N. investigators say millions of civilians in Idlib under siege by Russian-backed Syrian forces - and a terrorist group that controls the area - are facing a humanitarian catastrophe and are in urgent need of emergency assistance. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria has just released its latest report, which covers the period between July 11 and January 10.
The report, which includes latest developments in Syria and finds the military onslaught by Russian-backed Syrian forces to retake Idlib from the terrorist group Hay’at Tahris al-Sham has led to unprecedented levels of displacement. Of the three million civilians trapped in Idlib, it says about one-third have fled their homes.
The report accuses Russia of possible war crimes in the bombing of a marketplace on July 22, which killed 43 civilians, and then again on August 16. That was when a compound for displaced people was attacked, killing 20 people, including six children. Russia denies its planes were involved in these attacks.
The Commission has been tracking attacks on what international humanitarian law calls protected civilian objects. These include hospitals, schools and places of worship. Commission member Hanny Megally told VOA hospitals have been attacked with the purpose of forcing people to leave.
“There is a war crime of intentionally terrorizing the population to force it to move. And, I think we are seeing that picture emerging very clearly. For example, in Idlib where because these places are being bombed, people are having to move out of the areas that they are living in because they cannot sustain living in those areas,” said Megally.
The United Nations reports nearly one million displaced people are stranded at the Turkish border, which is closed to them. Megally said those who have newly arrived have no shelter. They are forced to live outside in the freezing cold weather, with no blankets or other cover.
“People that are stuck at the border are suffering because of a lack of humanitarian assistance. And, children have been dying in the cold. And, it is not clear to me why the international community has not acted urgently to make sure that they are getting humanitarian assistance that they need. Politics seems to get in the way there. I think the real question is if they cannot move from where they are, why is humanitarian assistance not being provided to them,” said Megally.
He said civilians are in desperate need of shelter, food, water, medical aid and protection. The report will be submitted to the U.N. human rights council March 10.