US-led coalition violated intl law in Syria by failing to protect civilians – UN report

The UN Syria Commission released a report saying it is “gravely concerned” about the impact of international airstrikes in the war-torn country, adding that US-led forces failed to take proper precautions to protect civilians during an attack in Aleppo.

 
© RT

“The Commission is gravely concerned about the impact of international coalition airstrikes on civilians,” the report states.

It goes on to cite the March 2017 incident in Al-Jinah, Aleppo, in which “forces of the United States of America failed to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects when attacking a mosque, in violation of international humanitarian law.”

It also mentions the situation in Raqqa, in which the “ongoing Syrian Democratic Forces and international coalition offensive to repel [Islamic State or IS, formerly ISIS] has displaced over 190,000 persons, and coalition airstrikes have reportedly resulted in significant numbers of civilians killed and injured.” It added that investigations are ongoing.

Raqqa, the last stronghold of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), is under “intense artillery shelling” and “limited airstrikes by the coalition forces,” Amnesty International stated last month.

Some 20,000 civilians are currently trapped in Raqqa, unable to escape from the terrorist stronghold, according to the UN, which urged the US-led coalition last month to stop the bombings to allow people to safely leave the city.

READ MORE: ‘Worst place on earth’: UN urges US-led coalition to pause airstrikes to spare Raqqa civilians

The trapped civilians have virtually no access to basic services, including safe water and food, and are surviving on food they stored up earlier, David Swanson, public information officer from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told RT.

The US-led coalition began an offensive in Raqqa in June, aiming to recapture the city. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and injured since that offensive began, according to Amnesty.

The UN Syria Commission's Wednesday document also suggests that Syrian government forces were responsible for a chemical attack that took place in April.

 
ARCHIVE: Russian military inspect suspected chemical weapons workshop in Aleppo © Ruptly

“All evidence available leads the Commission to conclude that there are reasonable grounds to believe Syrian forces dropped an aerial bomb dispersing sarin in Khan Shaykhun at around 6:45am on 4 April,” it states, adding that such attacks constitute war crimes.

However, the Russian Defense Ministry reported at the time that the chemicals were a result of the Syrian air force destroying a warehouse where chemical weapons were being produced and stockpiled before being shipped to Iraq.

The warehouse was used to both produce and store shells containing toxic gas, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said at the time.

Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy, the chief of the Russian General Staff’s Operations Department demanded a “thorough investigation” of the Khan Sheikhoun incident in April, noting that US and Western claims accusing the Syrian government of being behind the chemical attack were “highly questionable.”

READ MORE: Syrian govt has no chemical weapons, ‘absolutely no need to use it’ – Russian MoD

He added that Russia was ready to provide experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) with access to the Syrian Army airbase from which the attack was allegedly launched.

“The experts are aware that it is impossible to conceal the traces of the chemical weapons,” he said, adding that the Syrian government was also ready to grant access to the base to experts.

However, no such expert investigation has taken place at the site.

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US-led forces confirm ‘unintentional killing’ of 61 more civilians in Iraq, Syria

The US-led coalition fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) has confirmed another 61 “unintentional civilian deaths” caused by its strikes in Iraq and Syria, raising the number of civilians it has acknowledged killing since 2014 to at least 685.

The coalition said in a statement, released on Friday, that during the month of July, it had investigated 37 reports of civilian casualties. “[of these] 13 were accessed to be credible resulting in 61 unintentional civilian deaths.”

The coalition is currently investigating a total of 455 reports of civilian casualties caused by its artillery or air strikes, the statement said.

It has acknowledged at least 685 civilian deaths caused by its operations since August 2014.

 

A general view of destroyed houses on the front line in the Al Dariya neighborhood in western Raqqa, Syria, 24 July 2017. © Morukc Umnaber / Global Look Press

"To date, based on information available, CJTF-OIR [Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve] assesses that, it is more likely than not, at least 685 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve,” the statement said, noting that the coalition takes all reports of civilian casualties “seriously and assesses all reports as thoroughly as possible.”

The deadliest incident was a March 14 strike near Mosul, in which the coalition attacked an Islamic State position where fighters were firing at coalition allies.

“During a strike on ISIS fighters engaging partner forces from a fighting position, it was assessed that 27 civilians in an adjacent structure were unintentionally killed,” the coalition said.

“Although we are unable to investigate all reports of possible civilian casualties using traditional investigative methods, such as interviewing witnesses and examining the site, the Coalition interviews pilots and other personnel involved in the targeting process, reviews strike and surveillance video if available, and analyzes information provided by government agencies, non-governmental reports, partner forces, and traditional and social media.”

From August 2014 to July 2017, the Coalition conducted a total of 24,160 strikes. “During this period, the total number of reports of possible civilian casualties was 1169.” The total number of credible reports of civilian casualties during this time period was 164, it said.

 

Smoke rises after an air strike in Raqqa, Syria August 15, 2017 © Zohra Bensemra

Civilians are paying an “unacceptable” price in the siege of the city of Raqqa, a top UN human rights official stressed on Thursday, adding that the US-led coalition may not be respecting the principles of international humanitarian law in its “intense” airstrikes.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights, said his office had managed to verify reports of 151 civilian deaths from six aerial or ground operations over the course of August alone. 

Given the extremely high number of reports of civilian casualties this month and the intensity of the airstrikes on Raqqa, coupled with ISIL’s use of civilians as human shields, I am deeply concerned that civilians – who should be protected at all times – are paying an unacceptable price and that forces involved in battling ISIL are losing sight of the ultimate goal of this battle,” Zeid said in a statement

The UN has expressed “deep concerns” over the mounting number of civilian casualties in Raqqa inflicted by US-led coalition airstrikes, condemning “any attack directed against civilians or civilian infrastructure.”

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us they are deeply concerned by unconfirmed reports of a high number of civilians killed by airstrike in Raqqa city over the last 24 hours,” Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN secretary-general, told reporters at a daily briefing at the end of last month. 

In recent days and weeks scores of civilians have reportedly been killed and injured in Raqqa due to airstrikes and shelling and up to 25,000 people remain trapped in the city,” Dujarric said.

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UN investigates reports of up to 80 civilians killed by airstrike in ISIS-held part of Mosul

The UN is investigating reports which say up to 80 civilians have been killed by an airstrike in a terrorist-held part of western Mosul. It also accused the jihadists of killing at least 231 residents attempting to flee the Iraqi city.

The airstrike happened in the Zanjilly neighborhood of the war-torn city on May 31, and is one of several reported incidents in which airstrikes caused civilian deaths in Mosul, the UN Human Rights Office said in a statement on Thursday.

The organization said its Iraqi office was seeking additional information on the incidents and called on the Iraqi Security Forces and the US-led coalition to take all measures to minimize civilian casualties in the ongoing conflict.

READ MORE: 100k children trapped in ISIS-held Mosul, some forced to fight for terrorists – UNICEF

Reuters cited a young man in Mosul, who said he was wounded in an airstrike which hit a group of between 200 and 250 civilians collecting water. The witness said the strike apparently targeted a fighter from the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) who was hiding among them.

The UN also accused the jihadists of escalating the violence against the civilian population trying to flee the parts of Mosul remaining under IS control. It is estimated that since May 26, more than 231 civilians have been killed by IS fighters, with 204 reported deaths occurring over just three days last week.

WATCH MORE PHOTOS FROM MOSUL

The statement cited several instances of such mass killings by IS, which happened recently in the al-Shifa neighborhood, adding that an undetermined number of civilians have gone missing.

“Shooting children as they try to run to safety with their families – there are no words of condemnation strong enough for such despicable acts,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein was cited by the statement as saying.

 
© Ali Arkady/VII/Redux

“I call on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that those who are responsible for these horrors are held accountable and brought to justice in line with international human rights laws and standards. The victims of such terrible crimes must not be forgotten.”

The Iraqi forces announced a new push two weeks ago to capture several neighborhoods of western Mosul remaining under IS control, with an estimated 200,000 civilians trapped there. According to UNICEF, 100,000 children are living in harrowing conditions in western Mosul, and some of them have been used as soldiers by the jihadists.

The UN high commissioner also called on the Iraqi authorities to investigate any allegations of human rights violations committed by Iraqi Security Forces, without specifying any particular allegations.

It comes after freelance photographer and filmmaker Ali Arkady began to publish footage and images of the torture of prisoners, executions and other crimes allegedly committed by the Iraqi Emergency Response Division (ERD) in December 2016. Arkady said he was embedded with the unit at the time.

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At least 35 civilians killed in US-led coalition airstrikes in Syria – state media

At least 35 civilians were killed by US-led airstrikes in Syria on Thursday evening, according to state media. The UN’s human rights chief has called on all sides to take greater care to protect civilian lives in the war-torn country.

The airstrikes in Deir-ez-Zor province hit the market in the city of Mayadeen, as well as a four-story building that was completely destroyed, Sana news agency reported

According to the news agency, at least 35 civilians were killed, most of whom were women and children. Injuries have also been reported.

 
© Rodi Said

However, a spokesman for the US-led coalition denied that its forces had conducted airstrikes near Mayadeen on Thursday and Friday, while telling Reuters that they are in the process of assessing the results.

Meanwhile, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights has called on all forces operating in Syria to be more careful to correctly distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilians when conducting airstrikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

“The rising toll of civilian deaths and injuries already caused by airstrikes in Deir-ez-Zor and Al-Raqqa suggests that insufficient precautions may have been taken in the attacks,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a Friday statement, as quoted by Reuters.

Hussein was referring to airstrikes carried out in mid-May that he said killed nearly two dozen farmworkers – most women – in a village in eastern Raqqa, as well as at least 59 civilians in residential areas of Deir al-Zor.

The UN human rights chief went on to describe some of the atrocities committed by IS in the region, noting that “scant attention is being paid by the outside world to the appalling predicament of the civilians trapped in these areas.”

 
US Defense Secretary James Mattis (L) and Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford © Yuri Gripas

Hussein’s comments came just one day after a Pentagon investigation admitted that more than 100 civilians had been killed in a US airstrike in Iraq in March, but largely placed the blame on IS. 

According to the probe, the airstrike on a building in Mosul’s al-Jadida neighborhood triggered secondary explosions from devices planted by IS fighters.

The investigation also states that the episode began when two IS snipers began firing at troops from Iraq’s Counterterrorism Service, prompting the US-led coalition to respond with the airstrike.

The US-led coalition has increased the number of bombs dropped on IS by about 50 percent this year, according to statistics from the US Air Forces Central Command.

The figures show that a total of 14,192 rockets, bombs, and other munitions were dropped in the first four months of 2017, up from 9,442 during the same period in 2016.

The increased number of airstrikes “can be attributed to the increased pace of operations in both Iraq and Syria as we target and destroy ISIS,” Lieutenant Colonel Damien Pickart, a spokesman for Air Force Central Command said on Tuesday, as quoted by USA Today.

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Coalition will investigate own airstrike that reportedly killed 30+ civilians in Syria – Pentagon

The Pentagon will aid in investigating reports that at least 33 civilian died near the Syrian town of Raqqa during a US-led coalition airstrike, officials said on Wednesday, following accusations from both local media and monitoring groups based abroad.

“At this time, we have no indication that an airstrike struck civilians near Raqqa as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims,” said an official statement from Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led coalition against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

“However, since we have conducted several strikes near Raqqa we will provide this information to our civilian casualty team for further investigation.”

“CJTF-OIR [Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve] takes all reports of civilian casualties seriously and assesses all incidents as thoroughly as possible. Coalition forces work diligently to be precise in our airstrikes. Coalition forces comply with the Law of Armed Conflict and take all feasible precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to civilians.”

 
According to local media reports, bombs from a US-led coalition plane hit a school in Al-Badia Al-Ad Dakhiliyah in the south of Al-Mansur, where at least 50 families from Raqqa, Palmyra, and Aleppo had been taking shelter. The school building itself was completely destroyed.
 
 

Al-Mansu is around 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) west of Raqqa, which is held by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

 
Earlier in March, officials from Operation Inherent Resolve admitted responsibility for at least 220 civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq during their campaign against IS. However, the monitoring group Airwars has asserted that this figure may be far below the real death toll, which may be as high as 2,700.

The Pentagon admitted that it had carried out 19 strikes near Raqqa on Monday, three of which destroyed a local IS base. The airstrikes are meant to support the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of armed groups currently advancing on Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the extremist Islamist group.

On March 16, a mosque packed with worshipers in the Syrian village of Al-Jinah was hit by a missile strike in which at least 50 people were reportedly killed. The Pentagon has denied responsibility, claiming that it had targeted a nearby town hall being used as a meeting place for IS, with spokesman Captain Jeff Davis claiming the mosque remained “relatively unscathed,” despite video evidence to the contrary.

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Whether from ISIS shells or US-led coalition bombs, civilians suffering in Mosul

The fight for Mosul, Islamic State’s capital in Iraq, is taking a heavy toll on the city’s civilian population. RT recounts the horrifying stories of some of the victims.

While the US-led coalition claims it does everything possible to avoid “collateral damage” when conducting airstrikes on Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), in reality, civilians wounded in their attacks are suffering just the same as those hurt by the shells and snipers of the jihadists.

Here are some of the stories that victims told RT’s sister video agency, Ruptly, about the siege in Mosul.

Iraq: Severely injured 5-yo girl sole survivor of Mosul airstrike

Five-year-old Hawraa was severely injured on March 16, when an airstrike destroyed her family’s home in the Jadeda neighborhood, said her father Ala, who believes the bombs were intended for IS fighters manning a shooting position in a house nearby.

“There were four people in the house, only she survived,” he said. Hawraa’s mother was among those killed in the coalition airstrike.

Iraq: Civilians trapped under rubble after deadly airstrikes destroy Mosul homes *GRAPHIC*

When airstrikes destroyed several houses on Tal Alruman street on March 11, as many as 25 people were left trapped under the debris, and their neighbors and relatives were unable to get them out, Fath Ahmad Abdulla, whose brother was among the victims, told Ruptly.

“ISIS was fighting here, behind the house. They tried to run behind the school. Then the house was bombed by aircraft,” he explained.

Another resident, Abdulhamed Mahmud, said more than 100 houses had been hit by airstrikes in the neighborhood since the siege began.

Ibrahim Rfaee was burying his grandmother Khalas when Ruptly interviewed him on March 12. Khalas was killed by a stray bullet while fleeing Mosul’s Tal Alruman district, which has been subjected to what he called “random bombing” by the coalition.

“Daesh go on the rooftops of the houses and the families don’t know. Then the aircrafts come and bomb it,” he explained, referring to the terrorist group by its Arabic acronym. “We are asking the coalition planes to be specific when they bomb. They were bombing randomly,” he stressed.

Iraq: Victims of Iraqi forces and IS fighters treated at hospital in Kurdistan

On March 7, Ruptly interviewed several patients at West Erbil Emergency Hospital in Iraqi Kurdistan, who were being treated for injuries received during the Mosul siege.

“When the army entered our neighborhood, they started fighting with ISIS, and we were in the middle, on the receiving end of both sides,” one Mosul resident said.

“ISIS came and kicked us out of our house. We ran looking for a safe place, and suddenly there was an explosion,” said another. “My father was injured and my brother was killed. My younger brother and sister were hit on the head and I was hit on the shoulder.”

READ MORE: 360° car bomb: Death machine filmed by RT Ruptly in bombed-out Mosul house (VIDEO)

There are an estimated 600,000 civilians caught in the crossfire of the Mosul operation, with tens of thousands fleeing the violence over the past month. The number of civilian deaths is difficult to estimate, and it is even harder to attribute them to either IS attacks or US-coalition airstrikes.

The US has given a conservative figure of 200 for civilian deaths inflicted by coalition airstrikes in Mosul, but a UK-based monitoring group, Airwars, says the true number may be more than ten times higher.

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Syria Denounces US-led Coalition Attack Against Civilians

Damascus, March 13 (Prensa Latina) Syria denounced the deaths of 19 civilians in areas of the province of Raqqa by bombings of the International Coalition that the United States leads, according to information published today in Damascus.

The attacks were in the region of Al Kasrat, in the south of the mentioned province, and next to the bank of Euphrates river, testimonies and data disclosed in the Syrian capital indicated.

Different sources, both Syrian and international, point out that the Coalition's aviation attacks have so far caused more than 2,000 civilian casualties, of which the United States has admitted only 220.

Currently, about 1,000 US military personnel are deployed in northern regions of the Syrian province of Aleppo without authorization or coordination with Bashar al-Assad government, according to the president's denunciations.

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US-led coalition ‘acts secretively in Syria,’ Americans often absent from hotline – Russian military

After senior US Air Force officers accused Russian jets of flying dangerously close in Syria, Russia’s Defense Ministry hit back. Moscow said US colleagues only reluctantly share plans for combat aircraft operations, and are acting secretively in Syria.

According to the US Air Force, Russian planes allegedly don’t ‘squawk’ (carry transponders that send a four-digit number allowing air-traffic controllers to identify them), and fail to timely answer ‘guard calls,’ which are urgent summons on an emergency radio frequency.

“Rarely, if ever, do they respond verbally,” Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, who flies combat missions in a stealth fighter, told the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

“Rarely, if ever, do they move,” he complained. “We get out of the way. We don’t know what they can see or not see, and we don’t want them running into one of us,” Gen. Corcoran added

The Russian Defense Ministry noted in a statement on Wednesday that it’s hard to say if the allegations are Gen. Corcoran’s personal views or if they are just part of “the farewell Russophobic performance by the outgoing US administration.”

“In any case, we have received no such claims either from Gen. Corcoran or Pentagon representatives during the regular videoconferences with the Russian Defense Ministry on compliance with the memorandum on the prevention of incidents in the Syrian sky,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Gen. Igor Konashenkov stated on Wednesday.

Both the US Air Force and the US-led international coalition are trying to act "secretively" during operations in Syria, he added. “Our American colleagues don’t like to notify [us] about their plans to use combat aircraft, only occasionally indicating the time period and an approximate area. But not the specific types of aircraft and their affiliation.

“This has allowed [the US] in the case of tragic ‘mistakes’ of the coalition aircraft to avoid responsibility for the deaths of civilians and destruction of civilian objects. Suffice to recall the bombing of Kurdish villages in Hasadjek, which led to the deaths of civilians in October 2016.”

Konashenkov said that over 20 civilians were also killed in a B-52 strike carried out by the US on the Idlib province in Syria on January 3 this year.

The mutual flight safety memorandum, agreed by the US and Russia in October 2015, regulates the flight paths and contacts of the countries’ air forces in Syria during an emergency situation. The two countries also set up a hotline for their militaries to discuss the approximate locations and missions of planes in an attempt to avoid operating in the same airspace at the same time.

“We continue to assess that the Russians have no intent to harm coalition forces in the air or on the ground,” US Air Force Col. Daniel Manning told the newspaper. “Because we believe there is no malign intent towards the coalition forces, we’re able to de-conflict.”

Manning, described as a Russian speaker working out of Al Udeid air base in Qatar, has three scheduled calls a week with his Russian counterpart, a colonel based in Syria, to clear airspace for both militaries’ operations.

“Oftentimes, our American colleagues simply cannot be found on the other side of the ‘hotline’ in Qatar, designed to discuss and resolve contentious issues,” Konashenkov said. “Perhaps if they used this hotline more often and for its direct purposes, the commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing wouldn’t have to invent a non-existent problem in an interview with the Wall Street Journal,” he concluded.

The worst incident to date occurred on September 17, during airstrikes by the US-led coalition which killed 62 and injured 100 Syrian soldiers in Deir ez-Zor. Russia was initially notified of the planned strike via the ‘de-confliction’ hotline, but was given the wrong location, Brig. Gen. Richard 'Tex' Coe said.

The target coordinates supplied by the US coalition appeared to be 9km (6 miles) off. When Russian officers called the hotline to report that the strikes were actually targeting Syrian positions, they were kept on hold for as long as 27 minutes because the US officer who was the designated point of contact was unavailable. The bombing continued in that interval and only stopped once the Russian message had finally got through.

Two months after the airstrikes, the Pentagon acknowledged they were the result of an “unintentional, regrettable error.”

READ MORE: Strike on Syrian army was ‘regrettable error,’ Pentagon says

Russian and US jets were last involved in a ‘near miss’ incident in Syria on October 17. Konashenkov blamed the crew of an AWACS surveillance plane for violating the flight security rules near Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria. The American aircraft went down almost a kilometer (0.62 miles) from its flight level and "dangerously" approached the Russian Su-35 fighter jet, coming closer than 500 meters. American military officials later apologized to their Russian colleagues, although the Pentagon initially rushed to blame Russian jets entirely for the incident.

READ MORE: US Air Force command apologized for close fly-by in Syria — Russian MoD

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