Russian air raids 'may amount to war crimes' due to Syrian civilian toll

Russia's defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov holds a press briefing on the fight against terrorism in Syria on Dec 23, 2015.
Russia's defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov holds a press briefing on the fight against terrorism in Syria on Dec 23, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW • Russia's bombing of Syria may amount to a war crime because of the number of civilians its strikes have killed, Amnesty International said yesterday, presenting what it said was evidence that the air raids had violated humanitarian law.

"Russian air strikes in Syria have killed hundreds of civilians and caused massive destruction in residential areas, striking homes, a mosque and a busy market, as well as medical facilities, in... attacks that show evidence of violations of international humanitarian law," Amnesty said in a new report.

Russia started its campaign of air strikes against militants in Syria on Sept 30, saying it wanted to help the Kremlin's main Middle East ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other militant groups.

Moscow has repeatedly and forcefully denied targeting civilians, saying it takes great care to avoid bombing residential areas.

When asked by Reuters to comment on the Amnesty allegations, the Russian Defence Ministry said it had no immediate comment, while the Russian Foreign Ministry said it first needed to study the report before giving any official reaction.

Amnesty, whose charges echoed those of some Syrian observers, said Russian air strikes had killed at least 200 civilians and around a dozen fighters from September to November this year.

It said its report - which focused on six attacks in Homs, Idlib and Aleppo - was based on interviews with witnesses and survivors, as well as on video evidence and images showing the aftermath of attacks.

The Russian strikes "appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military target and even medical facilities", Mr Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

"Such attacks may amount to war crimes," Mr Luther said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2015, with the headline 'Russian air raids 'may amount to war crimes' due to Syrian civilian toll'. Print Edition | Subscribe