Report: War crimes committed by almost all sides in Syria

GENEVA (AP) — Investigators for the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council said on Monday that they had found evidence of war crimes in Syria committed by nearly all sides in the conflict during the second half of last year and into January.

The investigators turned up war crimes by Russian forces, Syrian government troops, al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria and Turkey-backed Syrian fighters.

The Commission of Inquiry for Syria has been tracking and chronicling human rights abuses and violations since shortly after Syria's war began in 2011. They revealed the findings in their 19th regular report on Monday, this time covering July 11 last year until Jan. 10.

That period was marked by several key developments in the war.

Starting in early December, a Russia-backed Syrian government offensive began pushing into Syria's last rebel stronghold in the northwestern Idlib province, which is dominated by al-Qaida-linked militants.

The offensive led to a surge of nearly a million Syrian civilians fleeing the fighting amid harsh winter weather. It's the single largest wave of displacement in Syria's nine-year civil war.

The commission's members, headed by Brazilian lawyer Paulo Pinheiro, said Syrian women, children and other civilians face “unprecedented level of suffering and pain.”

Pinheiro also said the commission found “reasonable grounds to believe" that Russian aircraft were involved in at least two strikes on a crowded market in July and on a center for displaced persons in August.

“In both incidents, the Russian Air Force did not direct the attacks at a specific military objective, amounting to the war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas,” the commission said, citing witness testimonies, video footage, data imagery, reports by flight spotters, flight communication intercepts and early warning observation reports.

Pro-government forces were also alleged to have used cluster munitions in densely populated camps for displaced civilians.

The al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham was cited for carrying out at least one execution.

Elsewhere, in northeastern Syria, Turkish government troops and their allied Syrian fighters had invaded Kurdish-held areas in October.

The Human Rights Council found that the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army, the shock troops in Turkey’s offensive, may have committed the war crime of murder in the Oct. 12 killing of Syrian-Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf. She was the head of the Future Party of Syria.

Turkey's stated aim in its offensive was to push the U.S.-allied Kurdish militias out of a buffer zone along the border. The invasion was precipitated by the pullback of American troops from the border.