16 Feb 2016

Russia denies war crimes in Syria after hospital bombings

Russia rejects Turkish claims is has committed “an obvious war crime” following the deaths of up to 50 people in bombing attacks on hospitals and schools in Syria.

(Above: anti-Assad Syrian activists have released video which they say shows cluster bombs being dropped by Russian planes near Aleppo)

Russia, which is giving military support to the Assad government in Syria, has always denied killing civilians in air strikes and says it is targeting “terrorists” and Islamic State.

Up to 50 people were killed on Monday when missiles hit five medical facilities and two schools in rebel-held areas of Syria, according to the United Nations, which called the attacks a blatant violation of international law.

At least 14 were killed in the northern town of Azaz, a rebel stronghold near the Turkish border, when missiles hit a children’s hospital and a school sheltering refugees.

There was also an attack on an MSF hospital in the town of Marat Numan in the province of Idlib, with seven people killed and at least eight staff missing. MSF, a French charity, said the attack was either carried out by the Syrian government or Russia.

‘War crime’

UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville condemned the air strikes, saying: “Clearly Syrian and Russian planes are very active in this area. They should know who is responsible. If it was deliberate, intentional targeting of those facilities, it could amount to a war crime.”

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We categorically do not accept such statements, the more so as every time those making these statements are unable to prove their unfounded accusations in any way.”

Turkey has said it will not allow Azaz to fall to Kurdish YPG fighters, who are backed by Russia, in what could become a direct confrontation between Moscow and a Nato member.

Ankara is worried about Kurdish involvement in the five-year Syrian civil war because it fears its own Kurdish population could be encouraged to seek separation from Turkey.

Ground operation

An unnamed Turkish official said it was asking its coalition allies, including the US, to take part in ground operations in Syria.

“We want a ground operation. If there is a consensus, Turkey will take part,” said the official. “Without a ground operation, it is impossible to stop this war.”

The violence follows a ceasefire agreement reached in Munich on Friday that is supposed to come into effect at the end of this week.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said yesterday that a ceasefire did not mean an end to hostilties, which were likely to continue for longer than a week.