Excessive, Deliberate Bombing of Tens of Civilian Facilities and Factions at Astana in One Week
SNHR has released a report entitled: “The Syrian-Russian Alliance Completely Shatters Astana Agreements” which sheds light on the most notable violations by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces in Idlib governorate between September 19, 2017, and September 27, 2017, after Idlib governorate was included as a de-escalation zone at the end of the sixth round of Astana Talks.
The report says that by late-March 2015, Syrian regime forces had lost control of the entirety of Idlib governorate, as armed opposition factions along with al Nussra Front (currently Fateh al Sham) took over the city, effectively ending Syrian regime forces’ existence there. In July 2017, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham carried out a swift offensive against armed opposition factions -most notably Ahrar al Sham Movement- as wide areas of Idlib governorate have become under the control of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham.
The report notes that the de-escalation agreement went into force on May 6, 2017, following the fourth round of Astana Talks between the three sponsoring states (Turkey, Russia, Iran). Idlib governorate and the surrounding areas (parts of Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia governorates) were included as one of the four de-escalation zones agreed upon. In the fifth round of Astana Talks, it was agreed that a work group shall be formed to work on the matter of de-escalation zones, and with the end of the sixth round (September 14-15, 2017) Idlib governorate and the surrounding areas were confirmed as a de-escalation zone, provided that military forces (Russian, Turkish, and Iranian) would be deployed to monitor the agreement, with the passage of humanitarian aids.
The report adds that Idlib governorate houses currently 2.9 million people who are mostly IDPs from Homs, Hama, Damascus suburbs, and areas that saw truces resulting in displacement and forced eviction.
The report stresses that Idlib governorate has seen a significant drop in the rates of bombardment and violations by the Syrian-Russian alliance since the agreement went into effect on May 6, 2017, which which reflected on the lives of the residents, as medical and educational facilities were rehabilitated, and many children enrolled in schools after their families had refrained from sending them out to schools, fearing that they might be killed. In addition, markets became more vital and lively.
According to the report, on Tuesday, September 19, 2017, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, with the support of some factions (The Turkistani Islamic Party, Jaish al Izza, and Jaish al Nukhba) initiated the battle “Ya Ebadallah Uthbotu” carrying out attacks on several Syrian regime forces bases in northeastern Hama governorate, and taking over villages such as al Sha’tha and al Tliyseiya. However, Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian forces, managed to take over these areas on the same day.
The report documents no less than 714 airstrikes on Idlib governorate, and 13 barrel bombs that were dropped by Syrian regime helicopters in no more than eight days. These attacks targeted vital civilian facilities – most notably hospitals, civil defense facilities, schools, and substations. We have documented that some of the facilities have been targeted more than once, which implies that damaging infrastructure and service facilities was deliberate.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman of SNHR, says:
“Astana Agreements are now devoid of any meaning. When the forces of the sponsoring Russian side, along with its Syrian ally, bomb bases for armed factions who were part of Astana, and kill their fighters, this is undoubtedly enhancing al Nussra Front position at the expense of these factions. We demand that the perpetrators of these crimes are held accountable, those who were the reason the de-escalation failed, and have killed civilians.”
The report documents the killing of 137 individuals, including 23 children, 24 women and 52 fighters, in addition to three massacres at the hands of the Syrian-Russian alliance in the period of time covered by the report, as Russian forces killed 128 individuals, including 21 children and 21 women, and committed two massacres, while Syrian regime forces were responsible for the killing of nine civilians, including two children and three women, and committed one massacre.
The report also records 45 incidents of attack on vital civilian facilities, including 36 by Russian forces that targeted, in their attacks, eight medical facilities, five schools, and 12 civil defense centers. Syrian regime forces were responsible for 9 incidents of attack, including one medical facility, one school, and four civil defense facilities.
The report notes that Russian forces used cluster submunitions one time in the period of time covered by the report.
Furthermore, the report notes the Russian government has to be aware of the armed opposition factions’ bases and areas of control. However, some of these bases were targeted in heavy bombardments. The report records that no less than four military bases were targeted by Russian forces, as 52 fighters from armed opposition factions were killed in these attacks.
The report notes that the targeted areas were civilian areas where no military centers or weapon warehouses for armed opposition factions or extremist Islamic groups were found before or during the attack.
The report stresses that the Syrian and Russian regimes have, beyond any doubt, violated Security Council Resolutions 2139 and 2254 which both state that indiscriminate attacks must be halted. Also, The Syrian and Russian regimes have violated Article 8 of Rome Statute through the act of willful killing which constitutes war crimes.
The report adds that the bombardment has targeted armless civilians. Therefore, the Syrian-Russian alliance forces have violated the rules of the international human rights law which guarantee the right to life. Additionally, these violations were perpetrated in a non-international armed conflict which amount to a war crime where all elements were fulfilled.
The report calls for launching investigations regarding the incidents included in this report and then, making the findings of these investigations public for the Syrian people, and holding the people involved accountable. Also, the damaged facilities and centers should be compensated, rebuilt, and rehabilitated, and all the wounded and victims’ families, who were killed by the Russian regime, should be compensated.
The report also calls on the Security Council Resolution to take additional steps after Resolution 2254 was adopted, which states: “Demands that all parties immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such, including attacks against medical facilities and personnel, and any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment.”
The report also calls for the referral of the Syrian case to the International Criminal Court and all those who are responsible must be held accountable including the Russian regime whose involvement in war crimes has been proven. Also, security and peace must be instilled in Syria, and the Reasonability to Protect norm must be implemented in order to protect the lives, culture, and history of the Syrian people from being destroyed, looted, and ruined. Additionally, sanctions should be expanded to include the Syrian, Russian, and Iranian regimes who are directly involved in committing crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Syrian people.
The report calls on the United Nations special envoy to Syria to condemn the perpetrators of the crimes, the massacres, and those who were primarily responsible for shattering the de-escalation agreements. And stop liming the Security Council briefings to the violations of al Nussra Front and ISIS.