Aerial attacks on Aleppo "were war crimes": UN probe

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A child standing amid debris on a street in Aleppo. File Photo: OCHA/Romenzi

The battle to control the city of Aleppo in Syria last year caused "unparalleled suffering" amounting to war crimes, UN rights investigators said on Wednesday.

Based on nearly 300 testimonies, satellite imagery and other records, the UN Commission of Inquiry report details how Syrian and Russian war planes reduced eastern Aleppo to rubble.

Armed opposition groups holding out there also shelled densely-populated civilian areas in government-held areas, according to the investigating panel.

Daniel Johnson has more.

The UN Commission of Inquiry's latest report into human rights violations in Syria is its 13th so far.

It focuses on the battle for Aleppo city between July and December 2016 and the deliberate targeting of vital services in the opposition-held east.

Head of the investigating panel Paulo Pinheiro said that civilians were not just caught in the line of fire; more often than not, they were the target:

"The Syrian and Russian airforce relentlessly bombarded eastern Aleppo city as part of a strategy to force surrender. hospitals, orphanages, schools, markets and homes were all but bliterated."

Mr Pinheiro added that after government forces besieged the east of the city in July, hundreds of civilians died amid daily aerial attacks from bunker-busting bombs, cluster munitions, incendiary weapons and crudely weaponized chlorine canisters.

The UN report also finds that armed opposition groups were to blame for shelling residential areas in the west of the city.

They also shot at civilians to stop them from leaving.

Its findings also clearly suggest that the Syrian air force carried out the aerial attack on a joint UN/Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy that killed 14 aid workers in September last year.

Regarding accountability for the crimes, investigator Carla del Ponte told journalists that the probe had established the identities of those likely to have been responsible – but the chances of a trial happening remain very slim.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 1'30"

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