GENEVA (UN) – Although February’s ceasefire agreement created an all-too-brief respite in fighting, there has been a tragic increase in violence targeting Syrian civilians, crushing hopes of peace in the war-torn country, a group of United Nations experts warned.
In its latest report, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria notes how recent indiscriminate attacks on civilians, blockades of humanitarian convoys and crimes committed by all parties to the conflict, have left Syrians in a state of despair.
“The relentless attacks and sieges against civilians shows no signs of abating giving people little, if any, hope, of a lasting peace in the country,” said Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro in a news release on the report.
The Commission has been mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international law in Syria since March 2011.
The report notes violence has reached unprecedented levels in Aleppo, the country’s second largest city, as parties wrestle for control its eastern part, and casualties have rapidly mounted at an alarming rate as civilians have been unable to flee from daily airstrikes.
While some perish in the attacks, others later die from lack of life-saving medical services, as a consequence of the pro-Government forces’ bombardments that have destroyed over twenty hospitals and clinics in Aleppo governorate alone since the beginning of the year, the report says.
It adds that countless medical staff and first responders who provide vital services lost their lives in such attacks, further worsening a situation already desperately precarious before the current offensive, the reports notes.
“The intensifying attacks on medical care – including maternity hospitals, paediatric units and emergency wards – are in flagrant disregard of the letter and the spirit of international humanitarian law,” said Mr. Pinheiro. “Such attacks seek to levy the suffering of civilians by belligerents in order to gain military advantage.”
Civilians killed in attacks by both sides
The report notes that as hostilities resumed in areas that had enjoyed relative peace for the first time in five years, so did aerial and shelling bombardments, primarily by pro-government forces. It also cites continued indiscriminate shelling of civilian-inhabited neighbourhoods, and hostage-taking for ransom by anti-government armed groups. Attacks by both sides have killed and maimed scores of civilians, many of them children.
“Nearly 600,000 civilians in Damascus, Rif Damascus, Dayr Az-Zawr, Homs and Idlib governorates continue to suffer brutal conditions created by protracted sieges,” the report states.
The report further notes that across the country, starvation through besiegement continues to be used as a tactic of war with devastating consequences, and that in Darayya, besieged by government security forces for almost four years, young children and elderly people are seen dying of starvation, with survivors subsisting on grass and unsafe drinking-water, a phenomenon also reported throughout other besieged areas.
“Recent developments in Darayya, including the forcible displacement of the civilian population as part of political negotiations, contravene well-established principles of international law,” said Commissioner Vitit Muntarbhorn.
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