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UN says war crimes occurred during Syria’s Idlib offensive

War crimes and possible crimes against humanity were committed during the battle for Syria’s opposition-held Idlib province, a UN investigation said Tuesday.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria said people endured “unfathomable suffering” during the campaign launched in late 2019 by pro-regime forces to re-take the last remaining areas in the country held by armed groups.

“Children were shelled at school, parents were shelled at the market, patients were shelled at the hospital, and entire families were bombarded even while fleeing,” said commission chair Paulo Pinheiro.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, supported by Russia, in December relaunched its offensive against the northwestern region, which is dominated by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham jihadist group.

A precarious truce brokered by Russia and rebel-backer Turkey came into force in early March.

The offensive left a million people displaced and more than 500 civilians dead, according to the United Nations.

The 29-page commission report covers the period from November 1 to June 1.

It documents 52 attacks — by all parties — which led to civilian casualties or damage to civilian infrastructure.

They included 17 attacks impacting on hospitals and medical facilities; 14 involving schools; nine on markets, and 12 others on homes.

“It is completely abhorrent that, after more than nine years, civilians continue to be indiscriminately attacked, or even targeted, while going about their daily lives,” said Pinheiro.

“Pro-government forces and UN-designated terrorists flagrantly violated the laws of war and the rights of Syrian civilians.”

The commission urged all parties to the conflict in Syria to cease attacks on civilians, and also urged countries to pursue accountability for the crimes documented.

The report is due to be presented at the ongoing Human Rights Council on July 14-15.

The war in Syria has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced nearly half of the country’s pre-war population since it started in 2011.