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NEW YORK CITY: In the past six months, Syria has experienced the worst surge of violence since 2020, the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic said on Monday.
During that time, it added, various forces have targeted civilians and essential infrastructure across several battlefronts, committing acts that could amount to war crimes.
“Since October, Syria has seen the largest escalation in fighting in four years,” said the chair of the commission, Paulo Pinheiro, as he called for more intensive international efforts to halt the fighting. “Syria, too, desperately needs a ceasefire.”
Syrians cannot endure any further escalation of fighting as they continue to reel from the effects of an unparalleled humanitarian emergency that is pushing them further into despair, he added.
The latest report by the commission, published on Monday, said that more than 90 percent of Syrians now live in poverty, and more than 16.7 million are in need of humanitarian assistance to survive, the most since the conflict in the country began. Meanwhile, it added, the economy continues to be in free fall amid tightening international sanctions, and rising levels of lawlessness are driving armed forces and militias to engage in predatory behavior and extortion.
The surge in violence began on Oct. 5, when several explosions rocked a graduation ceremony at a military academy in the government-controlled city of Homs, killing at least 63 people, including 37 civilians, and injuring dozens.
Syrian government and Russian forces responded with bombardments targeting at least 2,300 sites in opposition-controlled areas in the space of just three weeks, killing or injuring hundreds of civilians. These targets of these “indiscriminate” attacks, which the commission said might amount to war crimes, included hospitals, schools, markets and camps for internally displaced persons. The attacks continue.
“Syrian government forces again used cluster munitions in densely populated areas, continuing devastating and unlawful patterns that we have documented in the past,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally.
The attacks have forced more than 120,000 people to flee, he added, many of whom had already been displaced several times, including by the devastating twin earthquakes in February last year.
“It should be no surprise that the number of Syrians seeking asylum in Europe last October reached the highest level in seven years,” Megally said.
“Syria remains the world’s largest displacement crisis, with over 13 million Syrians unable to return to their homes.”
Since the beginning of the war in Gaza in October last year, the report said, tensions have risen among the six foreign forces involved in Syria, in particular between Israel, Iran and the US, triggering fears of a wider regional conflict.
Israel has launched more than 30 strikes against Iran-affiliated forces and sites in Syria, and targeted Aleppo and Damascus airports, forcing the temporary suspension of crucial UN humanitarian air operations.
Meanwhile, pro-Iranian militias have attacked US bases in northeastern Syria more than 100 times, the report stated, prompting retaliatory airstrikes by American forces.
In addition, the Turkish army has intensified its attacks on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in retaliation for an attack in Ankara in October for which the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as PKK, claimed responsibility.
Several civilians were killed in Turkish airstrikes on power plants that left nearly 1 million people without water or electricity for weeks, in what was denounced as a violation of international humanitarian law.
“Such attacks may amount to war crimes,” the commission said in its report.
Breakdowns of military alliances and intense clashes between the Syrian Democratic Forces and a coalition of tribal fighters in Dayr Al-Zawr additionally have led to numerous incidents of violence that caused civilian casualties. This ongoing conflict stems from longstanding grievances, with the cash-strapped, Kurdish-led administration that controls the area accused of failing to adequately deliver essential services and ensure basic rights.
In Central Syria, intensified assaults by Daesh have targeted military sites and civilians alike in urban areas with “attacks likely amounting to war crimes,” the commission said.
Confrontations between Jordanian forces and drug traffickers have also escalated along the border between Syria and Jordan, with casualties among civilians caught in the crossfire.
The commission’s report also said the Syrian government continues to disappear, torture and ill-treat detainees. It documented further examples of deaths in custody, including at the notorious Sednaya Prison.
“Four months after the International Court of Justice ordered the government to prevent torture and destruction of evidence, Syrian authorities still deliberately obstruct and profit from families’ efforts to ascertain the whereabouts and fate of their detained loved ones, engaging in extortion,” the commissioners said.
In Idlib, they added, Hayat Tahrir El-Sham militants continue to commit acts of torture, violence and unlawful detention, with reports of executions based on summary trials at which the charges have included witchcraft, adultery and murder.
Commissioner Lynn Welchman said: “And as much as the world may wish to forget, five years after the fall of Baghuz when (Daesh) lost its territorial control in Syria, almost 30,000 children are still held in internment camps, prisons or rehabilitation centers in northeast Syria.
“These children were already victimized during (Daesh’s) rule, only to be subjected to years of continued human rights violations and abuses.”
The commission concluded that living conditions in Al-Hawl and Al-Rawj camps amount to “cruel and inhuman treatment and outrages on personal dignity.”
Welchman said: “No child should ever be punished for their parents’ actions or beliefs. We urge all states to immediately allow all children, including Syrian children, to return home from the camps and take measures to ensure their reintegration into society, and accountability for the crimes they have suffered.
“These children were all only 12 years old or younger at the time of (Daesh’s) rule — what crimes could possibly justify their continued detention? End the inertia, now.”
Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told Arab News: “I think these (reports) show how important these tools are to the international community, these commissions.
“For our part, I think the Secretariat has been talking about, and condemning very openly since the beginning of this conflict, all attacks against civilians in Syria.”
The Commission will present its latest mandate report to the UN Human Rights Council on March 18.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic was established on Aug. 22, 2011, by the UN Human Rights Council. Its mandate is to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in the country since March 2011.

 

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