Syrian regime deliberately bombed school and killed 21 children, UN report finds

Associated Press
These children survived the strike in the village of Hass in October  - (Muaz al-Shami, Syrian Revolution Network, via AP)

A UN investigative commission said on Tuesday it believes government forces deliberately bombed a school complex in the country's northern countryside in October, killing 21 children, in a scathing report on crimes committed over the last seven months of the Syrian war.

The UN's Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria said government forces and their allies had shown a "complete disregard for civilian life and international law" through the continued use of cluster munitions, incendiary weapons and chlorine gas as weapons of war.

It also fingered an al-Qaeda-aligned insurgent group fighting on the side of Syria's rebels and a US-backed Kurdish group for conscripting adolescents for combat.

The commission said the Oct 26 attack on the Haas village school complex in the rebel-held province of Idlib constituted a war crime. It said the Syrian air force is the only one known to operate the jets identified in the attack, which was widely reported at the time.

The commission's findings came the same day that a Physicians for Human Rights report accused the Syrian government of willfully denying international shipments of food and medicine to millions of Syrians in besieged areas.

The UN commission also concluded that government forces deliberately targeted the capital's water infrastructure last December, threatening supplies to 5.5 million people. It said the attack was unjustified and constituted a war crime. It did not find any evidence that rebels had poisoned the water supply, as state media alleged.

The Syrian government and its ally Russia maintain they are fighting terrorism.

A government delegation led by Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, meanwhile, began meetings Tuesday with Russian officials in the Kazakhstan capital of Astana.

The UN found that the Syrian regime had bombed the Wadi Barada area, cutting off water supplies for millions in Damascus Credit: Step News Agency, via AP, File

It is the third summit in Astana running parallel to political talks in Geneva between the government and the opposition. The Astana summits are centered around cease-fire and humanitarian relief coordination, but they have borne few results.

Syrian rebels have boycotted this third round, citing the government's continued bombardment of opposition-held areas in Homs and Damascus. On Monday, activists and the government announced a deal had been reached to evacuate rebels and their families from the Homs neighborhood of al-Waer, ending more than three years of government siege against the neighbourhood.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians were expected to evacuate al-Waer as well, rather than risk conscription or arrest by the Syrian army and security services. They will be sent to rebel-held Idlib and other opposition pockets around the country. The UN condemned a similar agreement that returned the city of Aleppo to government control as a war crime. 

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