UN report says Syria or allies likely to blame for attacks

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A U.N. investigation has concluded it is “highly probable” that the Syrian government or its allies were responsible for attacks on five facilities in the last opposition stronghold in the northwest in 2019 — a school, two health care centers, a hospital and a child care facility.

The investigators said it is “probable” a sixth attack on a Palestinian refugee camp in Aleppo was carried out either by armed opposition groups or by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the strongest militant group in northwest Idlib province that is affiliated with al-Qaida.

A summary of the 185-page confidential report by a board of inquiry appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was released Monday. It was charged with investigating incidents in the northwest after Russia and Turkey agreed to establish a “de-escalation zone” in Idlib on Sept. 17, 2018.

Guterres said in a letter accompanying the report that the Syrian government did not respond to repeated requests to visit the country.

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Noting the findings, he said, “I would emphasize in this connection that a board of inquiry is not a judicial body or court of law: It does not make legal findings or consider questions of legal liability or legal responsibility.”

While the summary said it is “highly probable” the Syrian government and/or its allies were responsible for five of the six attacks investigated, it never mentioned Damascus’ key ally, Russia, which has provided significant air power to President Bashar Assad.

When Guterres announced the board’s three members in September, he said he was initiating the investigation after claims, especially from human rights and humanitarian groups, that civilian facilities were being targeted despite their coordinates being given to the Syrian military and Russia.

At that time, Russia called the accusations “a lie.” Syria also disputed the allegations, saying it considered several facilities that were hit to have been taken over by terrorist groups and no longer functioning medical facilities.

The six incidents the board investigated involved facilities that were destroyed or damaged as a result of military operations and were on a U.N. “de-confliction” list not to be targeted because they involved health and civilian activities, or were supported by the United Nations.

The five attacks where the board said it was “highly probable” that Syria or its allies were responsible were at: the Martyr Akram Ali Ibrahim Al-Ahmad Secondary School in Madiq Castle in Hama province on April 28, 2019; the Rakaya Primary Health Care Center in Rakaya Sijneh in Idlib on May 3, 2019; Kafr Nabutha Primary Health Care Center and Surgical Unit in Kafr Nabutha in Hama on May 7, 2019; Kafr Nobol Surgical Hospital in Kafr Nobol in Idlib on July 4, 2019; and the Ariha Protection Center in Ariha in Idlib on July 28, 2019.

The board said it was “probable” the attack at the Nayrab Palestinian refugee camp in Aleppo on May 14, 2019 was carried out “by armed opposition groups or by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, noting that the vast majority of the evidence provided to it was to that effect.”

But the board said that in each of the six incidents there was no evidence that allowed it to reach “a conclusive finding.”

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