Russian, US air strikes in Syria caused mass civilian deaths, UN says

A significant number of civilians in Syria were killed by Russian and U.S.-led coalition air strikes last year, according to a new report from United Nations war crimes investigators.

Their latest report, which covers the six months that ended Jan. 15, states that “victims of the Syrian conflict have suffered greatly as violence countrywide re-escalated to new heights.”

The U.N. investigators called on Russia and the U.S. to probe their actions, which they claim violated international law.

According to the report, an air strike by a “Russian fixed-wing aircraft” last November hit a market and killed at least 84 people just west of Aleppo in a so-called “de-escalation zone” that was declared by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Although the U.N. body found no evidence that the Russian strike had intentionally targeted the market, it said “this attack may amount to the war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks resulting in death and injury to civilians,” which is the first time the U.N. has explicitly implicated Moscow in potential war crimes.

An UNHCR aid convoy drives through the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh - RC1AFA7E36E0

An UNHCR aid convoy drives through the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria March 5, 2018.  (Reuters)

The report found that U.S.-led coalition strikes on a school near Raqqa in March 2017 killed 150 residents, or about five times the toll announced by the Pentagon, which claimed that dozens of militants and not civilians had been killed.


No ISIS members were in the school nor using the school as a base, the report states, refuting U.S.-led coalition claims at that time.

“The Commission therefore concludes that the international coalition should have known the nature of the target and failed to take all feasible precautions to avoid or minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law,” the U.N. report states.

The report, based on 500 confidential interviews with victims and witnesses abroad or in Syria via social media, calls on all sides in the war-torn country to allow access to areas that are under siege and to all detainees.

Any peace deal must include justice, the report says.

“Vital civilian infrastructure has been decimated by repeated attacks on medical facilities, schools and markets. Humanitarian aid has been instrumentalized as a weapon of war with siege warfare and denial of life-giving assistance used to compel civilian communities and parties to the conflict alike to surrender or starve,” it said.

Christopher Carbone is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @christocarbone.