Bombing the Hospital and Aid Trucks Is a Planned and Deliberate Act, Constituting a War Crime by the Russian Forces That Requires Accountability
(Link below to download full report)
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights notes in its report released today, entitled “In Tandem with the Brussels V Conference, the Largest Russian Military Escalation in Nearly a Year, with al Atareb Hospital and Bab al Hawa Border Crossing Bombed”, that bombing the hospital and aid trucks was a planned and deliberate act, constituting a war crime by the Russian forces, which requires accountability.
The 10-page report reveals that the indiscriminate and deliberate aerial bombardment operations by the Syrian regime and its allies on the Idlib region and its environs in northwest Syria have significantly decreased since March 6, 2020, following the ceasefire agreement, clarifying that aerial bombardment continues to be the main cause of the majority of civilian deaths, the destruction of their homes and their displacement, while noting that many artillery and missile attacks from ground platforms have also been recorded, constituting a violation of the ceasefire agreement, and causing the death of many civilians.
The report specifically addresses the air and ground attacks launched by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces on Sunday, March 21, 2021, in a sudden military escalation, targeting civilian areas outside the control of the Syrian regime in northwest Syria; these areas contain vital installations and facilities. As the report notes, most of the targeted facilities were bombed for the first time, with the attacks causing civilian casualties and significant material damage to them.
The report documents the details of the attack on two areas: Al Atareb Surgical Hospital “Al Maghara Hospital” was targeted by pro-Syrian regime Lebanese Hezbollah militias, while an area near Bab al Hawa border crossing, which includes industrial and relief facilities, was subject to Russian attacks; Bab al Hawa is now the only crossing through which UN aid is able to enter northwest Syria after Russia used its veto at the Security Council against the renewal of Resolution No. 2165, according to which Bab al Salam border crossing was closed.
These acts are particularly heinous due to the extreme danger to civilian lives in bombing a hospital, as well as the enormity of the bombing of trucks used to transport humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced persons. The impact of these attacks, as the report notes, extends to the population’s rights to health, food and water, meaning that Russia and its ally, the Syrian regime, have not only obstructed the provision of aid and plundered humanitarian aid, but also bombed it.
As the report further notes, the investigations detailed in it have proved conclusively that the targeted locations were civilian areas, with the report also noting that Russia and the Syrian regime denied carrying out these attacks, or investigated them.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“The bombing of hospitals and humanitarian aid consignments and the killing of civilians are explicit blackmail messages from Russia and the Syrian regime to the Brussels Conference and to the states that refuse to rehabilitate the Syrian regime and provide reconstruction funds. The civilians and detainees held by the Syrian regime are used as hostages and tools for negotiation and extortion, and the response from those in charge of the Brussels Conference must be clear in condemning the bombing of hospitals and war crimes, and in ending any coordination with organizations established by the security services, and stressing the linkage of the issue of reconstruction with the political transition from dictatorship and corruption towards transparency and democracy.”
As the report reveals, at around 08:20 local time, artillery forces believed to be stationed at a site controlled by the Lebanese Hezbollah militia near Majbal al Zeft in Urm al Soghra village in the western suburbs of Aleppo fired three Krasnopol shells at al Atareb Surgical Hospital (Al Maghara Hospital) in al Atareb city in the western suburbs of Aleppo governorate, resulting in the deaths of eight civilians, including one child and one woman, and injuring about 17 others, including five of the hospital’s medical staff, as well as causing significant material damage to the external hospital structure and to a number of the hospital’s clinics and facilities, putting the hospital out of service.
The report assigns responsibility for this attack to the Syrian regime and Russian forces, as some witnesses who were at the site of the attack confirmed that Russian reconnaissance aircraft had flown over the site before and during the bombing, and later Russian media outlets published a video of the moment the hospital was targeted.
The report also documents the Russian forces targeting several vital facilities on the Sarmada-Bab al Hawa Road in the north of Idlib governorate, in an area located only about 4 km from the Syrian-Turkish border, which is surrounded by a group of randomly erected camps, inhabited by Syrian citizens who were forcibly displaced from other areas. The most prominent sites that have been bombed and destroyed were a gas filling and compressing plant, a yard used as a parking area for a large number of trucks and tanks used to transport humanitarian materials and aid, and a relief warehouse. The report provides a visual guide identifying the locations of the attacks launched by the Russian forces.
As the report notes, Russian media have published videos documenting the bombing operations which the report includes, with the report also referring to the international and human rights condemnations for the bombing on northwest Syria on Sunday, March 21.
The report adds that the Russian regime not only closed the border crossings through the arbitrary use of the veto, but that its violence has extended to the brutal bombing of relief vehicles and warehouses, proving once again that the Russian regime does not respect international law and continues to commit the most heinous types of violations in Syria in support of a regime involved in committing crimes against humanity against its people.
The report concludes that the bombing of al Atareb Hospital, which is located within a cave and far from the front lines, confirms that the Russian regime and its Syrian ally are deliberately bombing hospitals, and adds that these attacks by the Russian/ Syrian military alliance included in this report have resulted in more deaths of Syrian citizens, and in the injury and disability of many other people, as well as exacerbating the already extreme food and health-related suffering of the population, all of which add to the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in northwest Syria at various levels.
As the report reveals, the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance forces have unquestionably violated UN Security Council Resolutions No. 2139 and 2254 to stop indiscriminate attacks, as well as violating International Humanitarian Law rules of distinction between civilians and combatants. The evidence the report has collected indicates that the attacks were deliberately directed against civilians and civilian objects, with the Syrian-Russian alliance forces committing the crime of extrajudicial killing, and their attacks and indiscriminate bombing causing the destruction of facilities and buildings, and there are reasonable grounds to believe that the war crimes of attacking civilians have been committed in many cases.
The report notes that the Russian and Syrian leaderships, both military and political, bear responsibility for these attacks based on the principle of command responsibility under international humanitarian law, as they did not prevent the attacks and did not punish those responsible. Rather, the widespread repeated attacks indicate that they can only be the policy of a state ordered directly from the highest levels of the Russian and Syrian leadership, which implicates them in crimes against humanity and war crimes, and SNHR emphasizes one again that sanctions must be imposed and maintained by various states of the world that target all those involved in these barbaric attacks.
The report recommends that the UN Security Council should refer the Syrian case to the International Criminal Court and hold all those responsible accountable, while UNSC states’ veto power should be withheld when crimes against humanity and war crimes are committed.
The report urges the international community to support the political transition process, to put pressure to compel the parties to implement the political transition within a time period of no more than six months so that millions of displaced people can safely and settled return to their homes, and to renew pressure on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
The report also recommends that donor countries and organizations at Brussels V Conference should fulfill all financial pledges and harness these pledges for the benefit of the worst affected regions and groups; The report firmly believes that the forcibly displaced persons in northwest Syria are suffering the worst need. The report also calls on donor countries and organizations at Brussels V Conference to strenuously avoid providing grants and aid to organizations associated with the Syrian regime and the security services, as these will be employed in a discriminatory manner and solely in the interest of continuing the security and military solution, including the bombing of hospitals and aid, rather than being directed to helping those in need.
The report also recommends that the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) should conduct extensive investigations into these attacks, clearly condemn them, and clearly designate the Russian forces as the perpetrators if sufficient evidence is found by COI, in addition to making several more recommendations.