News in Brief 16 February 2016 (AM)

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Destroyed buildings line a street – which is flooded with algae-covered, debris-filled water – in the Old City area of Homs, the capital of Homs Governorate, Syria. File Photo: UNICE/Nasar Ali

Attacks on medical facilities in Syria "may be a war crime": UN

Attacks described as "abhorrent and repeated" on medical facilities in the Syrian conflict may constitute a war crime, the UN human rights watchdog said Tuesday.

Speaking after at least four hospitals and a school were hit in airstrikes in Idlib governorate, the UN's Human Rights Office, or OHCHR, said the "sheer number of incidents" raised "huge question marks" about why they were happening in contravention of international humanitarian law.

Such attacks on medical facilities are not new in the Syrian conflict, and date back to 2012, OHCHR said.

OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville underlined the human cost of the attacks:

"It isn't just the attacks on facilities, it's attacks on ambulances and individuals, and as I said if it's deliberate it may amount to a war crime…and a court that can make that judgment… But clearly not enough care has been taken by the forces involved because the number of cases is just ridiculous, and shocking and absolutely inexcusable."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 640 health workers have been killed after nearly five years of conflict.

Fighting has also left around 60 per cent of hospitals only partly functional, or closed.

And UN Children's Agency UNICEF said that schools continue to suffer too, with 42 attacks in 2015 "just the tip of the iceberg", and one in four institutions either destroyed or damaged.

Emergency aid delivered to "cut-off" Yemeni city

Desperately needed aid has finally begun to reach the Yemeni city of Taiz UN humanitarian workers said Tuesday.

It's the first time that the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has been able to access the city, where 200,000 people are cut off from regular humanitarian supplies.

Previous attempts to reach Taiz have failed, and this aid delivery to 1,000 conflict-affected families was only possible after weeks of negotiations.

UNHCR spokesperson Andreas Needham described what the UNHCR's representative in the country, Johannes Van Der Klaauw, had found in the city:

"What he witnessed was the critical need among the people who have been cut off for many months now for these emergency relief supplies, you know water, jerry cans and other relief items…"

Displacement figures continue to rise in Taiz, which has the highest number of internally displaced persons in the country, at approximately 400,000.

Conflicts have become even more dangerous, UN mines agency chief warns

The head of the UN's agency tasked with delivering a mine-free world has warned of the spiralling dangers for civilians and humanitarian workers in conflicts around the world.

Agnès Marcaillou, who's the director of the United Nations Mine Action Service, or UNMAS, said that there is an intensity of fighting "that we have not faced before" .

Speaking on the opening day of a major conference at the UN in Geneva to coordinate international de-mining strategy, Ms Marcaillou insisted that conflicts had changed.

Civilians and humanitarian agencies are now actively targeted, in order to keep them away from specific locations, and to allow mass killings to occur, the UNMAS director said.

"We are looking at an intensity in the conflict, an intensity in the shelling, the bombing and the firing that we have not faced before…the conflicts have changed, now  civilians are targeted, humanitarian workers are targeted, the United Nations, the ICRC are no longer protected by the emblems and flags that used to represent peace."

UNMAS director, Agnès Marcaillou.

Matthew Wells, United Nations.

Duration: 3’22″

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