THE UN special envoy for the Syria crisis, Staffan de Mistura,
has begun a round of consultations in Geneva in the hope of finding
enough common ground to launch another peace initiative. But groups
involved in the war in Syria say they will not co-operate with the
UN mission, amid signs of an intensification of fighting in several
parts of the country.
The northern city of Aleppo, which remained mostly quiet during
the opening months of the uprising against the Bashar al-Assad
regime, has, for several months, found itself caught up in some of
the most violent battles between government and rebel forces.
In a report just published, Death Everywhere, Amnesty
International says that, in 2014 and the first three months of this
year, "government forces and many non-state armed groups committed
serious human rights abuses and violations of international
humanitarian law in Aleppo city and its closest suburbs," some of
which "appear to constitute war crimes. In some cases, the actions
of the Syrian government may have amounted to crimes against
In February, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied that
forces loyal to his government had used barrel bombs in Aleppo or
elsewhere. But Amnesty says: "Barrel bombs and other air attacks
have killed, injured, and displaced tens of thousands of civilians
in Aleppo and across Syria."
The organisation has documented and received reports on hundreds
of incidents in Aleppo, from January 2014 to March this year,
involving air strikes on "civilian objects and populated areas,
including at least three schools, 17 hospitals, 12 transportation
hubs, 14 public markets, and 23 mosques". Residents as well as
monitoring groups told Amnesty International that barrel bombs were
used in the majority of these attacks.
"The massive destruction and casualties caused, as well as the
clearly identifiable remnants of barrel bombs, have been captured
in thousands of videos and photos from monitoring groups, media
sources, and witnesses."
The air strikes have put hospitals at risk, forcing staff to
move their facilities underground. Amnesty quotes a doctor working
at a field hospital in the al-Sakhour neighbourhood of Aleppo as
saying: "There is no sun, no fresh air; we can't go upstairs, and
there are always airplanes and helicopters in the sky. Some
hospitals are above the ground, but they face huge risks." Many
schools in opposition-held areas of Aleppo city have also moved
into basements or underground bunkers to avoid being bombed.
As a backdrop to these grave violations, the Amnesty report
says, citizens of Aleppo city "live in appalling conditions.
Residents in both opposition-held and government-held areas lack
basic services such as water and electricity, and suffer shortages
in food, medicine, and gas to heat their homes."
Humanitarian workers told Amnesty International that they were
generally able to reach government-controlled areas of the city.
Yet those providing assistance to opposition-controlled districts
spoke of "significant challenges to providing aid, not least of
which is the government forces' continual targeting of the road
that serves as the primary access route for humanitarian assistance
to the city".
Amnesty International calls on "all parties to the Syrian
conflict to end deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian
objects such as hospitals and schools; to end the indiscriminate
use of explosive weapons such as barrel bombs and mortars in
populated areas; to end arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances,
abduction and torture, and other ill treatment; and to allow
unimpeded humanitarian access to the UN and its implementing
partners in Aleppo and in Syria as a whole".
Ultimately, the report says, the success of initiatives to
secure a freeze in hostilities to allow humanitarian access "should
be measured by the commitment of all warring parties to halt the
human-rights abuses, war crimes, and crimes against humanity that
are being committed in Aleppo and across Syria".