Bombing of civilians in Syria is a war crime, says UN chief
President Bashar al-Assad and his Syrian government forces and their allies have almost certainly violated international law and probably committed war crimes by the latest bombardment of civilians hoping to be evacuated from eastern Aleppo, the UN's human rights chief has said.
"The Syrian government has a clear responsibility to ensure its people are safe, and is palpably failing to take this opportunity to do so," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said.
"The government of Syria is also obliged under international law to provide medical assistance to all sick and wounded people - civilians and fighters alike."
He said he was appalled a deal to evacuate many thousands of civilians appeared to have collapsed, and said it was outrageously cruel that hope of survival had been snatched away from them.
An evacuation of besieged rebel districts was announced late on Tuesday but did not go ahead as planned early yesterday after Iran, one of President Assad's main backers, imposed new conditions, saying it wanted rebels to allow the simultaneous evacuation of two Shi'ite villages.
A ceasefire that had coincided with news of the evacuation plan broke down and fighting raged again in Aleppo yesterday.
"While the reasons for the breakdown in the ceasefire are disputed, the resumption of extremely heavy bombardment by the Syrian government forces and their allies on an area packed with civilians is almost certainly a violation of international law and most likely constitutes war crimes," he said.
"The agreement was there, the buses were in place, the first convoy had set off and was then reportedly blocked by pro-government militia. This is inexcusable."
Last night a number of international aid agencies expressed grave concerns over the humanitarian situation in eastern Aleppo and their concerns for the conflict in Syria.
Richard Hamilton, response director for Care International, said civilians "must be permitted a free choice as to whether or not to flee fighting".
"Many are afraid of suffering the same fate as the inhabitants of Aleppo who have been massacred by bombs, or those in Daraya who were forcibly evacuated from their city. All they want is to live in peace at home," he said.
Evita Mouawad, humanitarian affairs advisor for Médecins Sans Frontiéres, said medical staff had run out of supplies.
"We are extremely concerned that access to healthcare in east Aleppo has become close to impossible. All the hospitals ... have been severely damaged by the bombings in the last months," she said.
Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said the risk of atrocities in Syria was not over with the government takeover of Aleppo.
"Unless combatants and commanders on all sides can see that there could be consequences for their unlawful actions, we will see more crimes replay themselves in other places," she said.