Syria war escalating, more probes needed into civilian casualties - UN experts

3 minute read

The United Nations headquarters building is pictured though a window with the UN logo in the foreground in the Manhattan borough of New York August 15, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

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  • U.N. cites heavier shelling, bombing by Syria, Russia
  • Inflation rampant, most Syria wheat imports from Ukraine, Russia
  • Urges U.S. to probe air strikes that caused civilian casualties

GENEVA, March 9 (Reuters) - Syria's war has escalated in the last months, marked by intensified shelling and aerial bombing by Syrian and Russian forces on rebel-held areas, U.N. war crimes investigators said on Wednesday.

Families in Syria, where rampant inflation hit 140% at the start of 2022, would be hard-hit by any disruption of wheat imports from Ukraine or Russia that could make prices for basic goods soar even further, they said.

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry called for reviewing Western sanctions on Syria to allow in more humanitarian aid and mitigate the impact on civilians grappling with shortages.

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Hundreds of thousands have been killed in the war which began in March 2011 and has displaced half of its pre-war population of 22 million, panel chairman Paulo Pinheiro said.

"Our worry is that it's not a war that is coming to an end, it is actually on the uptick again," Hanny Megally, a member of the independent panel, told a news briefing.

"In the northwest, we've seen increased shelling and aerial bombardments from the Syria state and the Russian Federation and shelling from the ground, including use of indiscriminate weapons but also targeted rockets," he said.

Drones and more sophisticated weapons such as Krasnopol-type precision-guided artillery were being used by the Damascus government or its Russian ally, the panel said in a report that examined some 14 deadly attacks in the second half of 2021.

The experts urged the United States to carry out thorough probes into civilian casualties caused by U.S.-led air strikes in Syria to ensure that those responsible for any violations are held to account.

"The (U.S.) investigations have been from our perspective not sufficient," Megally said.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations in Geneva had no immediate comment.

In late November, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a review of a 2019 strike in the Syrian town of Baghuz that caused civilian casualties, the Pentagon said at the time.

The New York Times had reported that the strike killed up to 64 women and children, a possible war crime, during the battle against Islamic State. read more

The U.N. panel again urged the United States and all parties to conduct credible and independent investigations into incidents involving civilian casualties in which their forces were implicated.

"We are saying with the U.S., the investigations are not up to scratch and we are concerned about some of the tactics and strategies. The other parties often completely deny when the evidence is there or don't carry out investigations," Megally said.

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Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Alison Williams and Nick Macfie

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