UN launches probe into raids on Syria hospitals, civilians

A Syrian boy, displaced from the town of Khan Sheikhoun, gazes at the makeshift camp where he currently lives in Idlib, near the Turkish border. (AFP)
Updated 14 September 2019

UN launches probe into raids on Syria hospitals, civilians

  • The three-member board of inquiry to start work Sept. 30
  • Dujarric stressed that the board will only ascertain the facts of the attacks and will not assess blame

AP NEW YORK: Secretary-General Antonio Guterres selected a Nigerian general on Friday to lead a UN investigation into attacks on hospitals and other civilian sites in Syria’s last opposition stronghold in the northwest amid protests that its findings will be kept secret.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced that the three-member board of inquiry to start work Sept. 30 will be led by Lt. Gen. Chikadibia Obiakor and include Janet Lim of Singapore and Maria Santos Pais of Portugal.

Dujarric stressed that the board will only ascertain the facts of the attacks and will not assess blame. Its findings “are internal documents and not for public release,” he said.

Guterres announced plans for the board Aug. 1 following a series of attacks on hospitals, schools and other civilian facilities in Idlib and the de-confliction area in northwest Syria.

David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said: “It’s vital that the findings are made public, first of all so that justice can be done, but also so that it’s clear to combatants in Syria or elsewhere that there will be accountability for them for their actions. “The great fear of an unpublished report is that the facts never get out, and if the facts never get out there can’t be any accountability.”

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• More than 500 civilians have been killed and many hundreds injured since the offensive began.

• Forty-three health facilities, 87 educational facilities, 29 water stations and seven markets had been affected by the fighting.

Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, said the board of inquiry “should work quickly to attribute attacks on medical facilities and other humanitarian sites in Syria to the forces who committed them.”

“The secretary-general should make the investigators’ findings public. The UN needs to remind Russia, Syria and other parties to the conflict that targeting humanitarian facilities is a war crime and those responsible will be held to account.”

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said more than 500 civilians have been killed and many hundreds injured since the offensive began. The UN health and children’s agencies reported then that 43 health facilities, 87 educational facilities, 29 water stations and seven markets had been affected by the fighting, he said.


Citizens accuse Lebanon’s Hezbollah of ‘robbing their livelihoods’

Updated 9 min 42 sec ago

Citizens accuse Lebanon’s Hezbollah of ‘robbing their livelihoods’

BEIRUT: When mass anti-government protests engulfed Lebanon, a taboo was broken as strongholds of the Hezbollah movement saw rare demonstrations criticising the party and revered leader Hasan Nasrallah.
On live TV and in protest sites, citizens accused the party of providing political cover for a corrupt government that they say has robbed people of their livelihoods.
This shattered the myth of absolute acquiesence among Hezbollah's popular base, baffling even those who hail from the movement's strongholds.
"No one ever expected that in any of these areas in south Lebanon we would hear a single word against Nasrallah," or Amal Movement leader Nabih Berri, said Sara, a 32-year-old activist who participated in protests in the southern city of Nabatiyeh.
"It's unbelievable," the activist added, asking to use a pseudonym due to security concerns.
The popular Iran-backed movement is a major political player that took 13 seats in the country's May 2018 parliamentary elections and secured three cabinet posts.
It helped its Christian ally Michel Aoun assume the presidency in 2016 and has since backed his government despite popular dissatisfaction that peaked last week following protests over taxes, corruption and dire economic conditions.
South Lebanon - a bastion of the powerful Shiite movement since the group liberated the region from Israeli occupation in 2000 - was not spared.
Protests have been reported in the cities of Nabatiyeh, Bint Jbeil, and Tyre, where Hezbollah and its political affiliate the Amal Movement hold sway.
With the exception of Tyre, they were not as big as other parts of the country.
But "the novelty here is that some of these protesters are party loyalists," said Sara.
"They support Hezbollah, but they are suffocating."
Among his supporters, Nasrallah is revered as an icon, with his pictures inundating highways, shops and homes.
In the past, his followers have mobilised against anyone who tried to criticise him, often ostracising opponents as supporters of rival Israel.


But anti-government protests that started in Beirut on October 17 and quickly spread across the country left no politician unscathed, not even the Hezbollah leader.
"All of them means all of them, Nasrallah is one of them," protesters chanted in Beirut.
Criticism of Nasrallah even aired on the Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV, in a scene that was previously unfathomable for watchers of the movement's propaganda arm.
In a live interview from central Beirut, one protester urged Nasrallah to "look after his people in Lebanon" instead of focusing on regional enterprises like Syria, where he has deployed fighters to defend President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Nasrallah acknowledged the mounting criticism against him in a speech on Saturday: "Curse me, I don't mind."
Speaking on the protesters demands, he warned against calling for the resignation of the government - saying it could take a long time to form a new one and solve the crisis.
Hatem Gharbeel, a protester in Nabatiyeh, said Hezbollah loyalists felt let down.
"The messages being addressed to Nasrallah by his own supporters in Nabatiyeh is that the resistance is not just about fighting Israel or terrorism," he said.
"It should also be about supporting people's livelihoods."
Other party heads have come in for even greater criticism.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Foreign Minster Gebran Bassil and Speaker Nabih Berri have been the targets of strong insults and slurs by demonstrators, even in areas where they are popular.


But the relatively toned-down criticism of Nasrallah has broken taboos, said Gharbeel.
"The barrier of fear has been broken, " he said.
"It shows that people are not blindly following their political or sectarian leaders anymore."
Lokman Slim, an independent political activist and an outspoken critic of Hezbollah, said that resentment among Lebanon's Shiite community "is not born out of a single event or a single moment."
"Frustration has been fermenting over the past few years over an economic crisis hampering not just the Lebanese state but also Hezbollah's statelet."
Hezbollah has filled in for the weak central government in areas where it has influence, creating social welfare institutions and provided an array of public services, including education and health services.
But the group has come under financial strain due to tightening US sanctions since President Donald Trump assumed office, forcing Nasrallah to appeal to his popular base for donations earlier this year.
"The Shiites have nothing to lose anymore," said Slim.
"This is why they are out on the streets."