UN investigators link US, Syrian and Russian forces to war crimes

The UN said required precautions were ignored during the air strikes. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 September 2019
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UN investigators link US, Syrian and Russian forces to war crimes

  • US-led forces have carried out air strikes in Syria
  • Syrian government and allied Russian warplanes are also conducting a deadly campaign

GENEVA: Air strikes by US-led coalition forces in Syria have killed or wounded many civilians, indicating that required precautions were ignored and war crimes may have been committed, United Nations investigators said on Wednesday.
Syrian government and allied Russian warplanes are also conducting a deadly campaign that appears to target medical facilities, schools, markets and farmland and which may also amount to war crimes, the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said.
The investigators also accused Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a militant alliance formerly known as Nusra Front that is the dominant armed group in Idlib, of firing rockets indiscriminately and killing civilians.
The eight-year-old war has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and forced 13 million people from their homes, half of whom have left their shattered homeland.
Backed by US-led coalition air power in a fight to oust Daesh, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which include Kurdish fighters, retook the group’s last major stronghold of Hajjin in eastern Syria in late December.
The coalition’s Al-Jazeera Storm operation resulted in a high number of civilian casualties, including in a series of strikes on Jan 3 in Sha’fah, south of Hajjin, that killed 16 civilians including 12 children, the UN report said.
“The Commission finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that international coalition forces may not have directed their attacks at a specific military objective, or failed to do so with the necessary precaution,” it said.
“Launching indiscriminate attacks that result in death or injury to civilians amounts to a war crime in cases in which such attacks are conducted recklessly,” it added.
Coalition officials could not be reached immediately for comment on the report.
Night raids by SDF forces backed by coalition helicopter gunships killed and wounded civilians in Shahil and other parts of Deir Ezzor province, in further apparent violations of international law, the investigators said.
Syrian government forces carried out repeated air strikes in Saraqib, in northwest Idlib province on March 9, damaging Al-Hayat women’s and children’s hospital, despite pro-government forces being aware of its coordinates, the report said.
In Idlib on May 14, “pro-government forces airdropped between two and four missiles on a fish market and primary school for girls in Jisr Al-Shughur,” killing at least 8 civilians, it said.
“Such attacks may amount to the war crime of deliberately attacking protected objects and intentionally attacking medical personnel,” it said.
The Syrian army denies its strikes target civilians and says its forces only bomb militants associated with hard-line Sunni fundamentalist groups linked to Al-Qaeda.
The report covers the year to July and is based on nearly 300 interviews and analysis of satellite imagery, photographs and videos.


Egypt orders trial for Italian ex-honorary consul charged with smuggling artefacts

Updated 17 September 2019
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Egypt orders trial for Italian ex-honorary consul charged with smuggling artefacts

  • Skakal, Italy’s former honorary consul in Luxor, attempted to smuggle 21,855 artefacts from various historical periods
  • Egyptian authorities also found many artefacts at the Italian’s former home in Cairo and inside a safe he rented

CAIRO: Egypt has ordered Italy’s former honorary consul to stand trial in absentia over charges of attempting to smuggle thousands of artefacts out of the country, the public prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday.
Ladislav Otakar Skakal, Italy’s former honorary consul in Luxor, attempted last year to smuggle 21,855 artefacts from various historical periods in a diplomatic container from Alexandria to the Italian port of Salerno, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
It said Egyptian authorities also found many artefacts at the Italian’s former home in Cairo and inside a safe he rented at a private bank.
Artefacts he allegedly attempted to smuggle went on display at the Egyptian museum in Cairo last year.
It was not immediately possible to contact Skakal. A call to a phone number in Rome listed under his name in an online directory went unanswered.
The public prosecutor also ordered some Egyptians accused of helping Skakal to stand trial. The statement did not name the suspects but said they had been detained.
Egypt has also asked Interpol to issue a red notice against Skakal, the statement added. A red notice requests law enforcement agencies to provisionally arrest a suspect pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action.
Antiquities theft flourished in Egypt in the years after the country’s 2011 uprising, with relics stolen from museums, mosques, storage facilities and illegal excavations.