A senior UN official said the Russian bombing in Idlib was a possible war crime and could be the deadliest attack since the crisis began Syria over five years ago, and accused Russia of using bombing and starvation in the east of Aleppo as a war tool.
Airstrikes by Syrian or Russian warplanes on Wednesday killed at least 26 people, most of them schoolchildren, in a village in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Wednesday that the bombing was believed to be carried out by Russian planes and targeted the village of Hass, including the school complex.
“The dead children are students and the planes are believed to be Russian,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based SOHR, which relies on a network of informants in Syria to track the war.
The UN’s British head of humanitarian aid, Christopher O’Brien revealed that Russian and Syrian forces have been dropping leaflets in Aleppo warning residents to leave or face annihilation.
He said the city was in an apocalyptic horror which made him ‘incandescent with rage.’
He also accused Russia and Syria of using bombing and starvation tactics in the east of Aleppo in a UN Security Council meeting in New York, triggering the Russian ambassador to launch into an unusual verbal attack.
It came after he briefed the meeting telling them how 400 people have been killed and nearly 2,000 injured in Aleppo in less than a month, many of them children.
He blamed Syria for besieging the city and at the same time carrying out a bombing campaign with its Russian allies in a deliberate campaign to ‘make life intolerable, make death likely.’
But Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said it was ‘outrageous’ that O’Brien spoke as if the bombings in eastern Aleppo are going on now when they have stopped for seven days.
He also accused him of creating ‘the impression that chemical weapons have been used’ in the rebel-held part of the city.
Aleppo is hostage by terrorists
The Russian ambassador then demanded the evidence and accused O’Brien of failing to mention that government-held western Aleppo ‘has been hostage to the terrorists of al-Nusra,’ the al-Qaida-linked extremist group.
Churkin told O’Brien that these and other omissions ‘make your statement unfair and dishonest.’
The council was supposed to go into closed consultations after O’Brien’s briefing.
But instead Churkin, the current council president, allowed members to speak in the open session, which put a spotlight on the deep divisions that have made the UN’s most powerful body impotent in taking action to end the more than five-year Syrian conflict.
Referring directly to Russia without naming it, O’Brien called on ‘all council members who have operational military assets in Syria to take concrete steps to halt the aerial bombardment of civilian areas.’
He also read from leaflets dropped on eastern Aleppo by Syrian and Russian aircraft which he said make their intention ‘chillingly clear.’
‘This is your last hope … Save yourselves,’ the leaflets read. ‘If you do not leave these areas urgently you will be annihilated. … They left you alone to face your doom and nobody will give you any help.’
O’Brien demanded that all parties end ‘these medieval tactics’ and grant humanitarian access to Aleppo and the hundreds of thousands of people trapped in 17 other besieged areas around the country.
‘Does Russia believe that all the children who are being killed in eastern Aleppo are themselves al-Qaida members?’ U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power asked.
And she told Churkin: ‘You don’t get congratulations and get credit for not committing war crimes for a day, or a week. That’s not how the international system is structured, and nor should it ever be.’
At the end of the meeting, O’Brien was given the floor to respond.
‘As an international civil servant I do not retract, qualify or disclaim any fact or part of my earlier statement,’ he said.
Addressing the Russian ambassador, he added, ‘I am prompted to state the age-old truth: Don’t shoot the messenger. Stand up for the beleaguered people of Syria and … stop the war now.’ Idlib
Russia launched an air campaign on September 30 last year in support of Syrian government forces, in a military intervention that has been widely credited with helping turn the balance of power in favour of President Bashar al-Assad.
Since then, at least 9,364 people have been killed in Russian raids, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The monitor said the death toll included about 3,800 civilians.
A further 20,000 civilians have been wounded in Russia’s year-long offensive of air strikes.