Crime & Justice

Russia responsible for strike on Haas housing complex: reports

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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A screenshot from a video taken by the White Helmets documents the first moments after a Russian airstrike hit a housing complex for displaced persons near the Idlib province town of Haas in August. [Photo courtesy of Syrian Civil Defence]

A New York Times investigative team on Sunday (December 1st) said it was able to confirm the veracity of an earlier Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that accused Russia of responsibility for bombing a housing complex in Syria.

Using eyewitness photos and videos, flight logs and cockpit tapes, the newspaper's team traced the airstrike on a housing complex for displaced families on the outskirts of the Idlib province town of Haas, to a Russian pilot.

"The evidence clearly points to Russian responsibility for the strike," the New York Times report said.

The airstrike hit the housing complex on the evening of August 16th, killing at least 20 civilians and injuring a further 52, HRW said in a detailed October 16th incident report, describing the attack as "an apparent war crime".

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Members of the White Helmets carry the victim of a Russian airstrike on a housing complex for displaced persons in the Idlib province town of Haas in August. [Photo via Syria 24]

The attack displaced about 200 survivors, HRW said.

Witnesses said there was no apparent military target for the attack on the compound, which killed "mostly women and children", it noted.

The compound, which includes residential buildings and shops, is run by a Syrian aid organisation, HRW said, and was taken out of commission by the strike.

"Since the start of the offensive on Idlib, the Syrian-Russian military alliance has used unlawful tactics to kill and injure hundreds of civilians," HRW associate crisis and conflict director Gerry Simpson said in the October HRW report.

HRW spoke to 24 witnesses and reviewed open source and satellite imagery relating to the attack. It found that there was no apparent military target in the vicinity, and only Syrian-Russian aircraft were operating in that area.

Attacks described as 'war crimes'

The housing complex had been hit previously, in 2016, when airstrikes by the joint Russian-Syrian military operation killed dozens of civilians, mostly schoolchildren, in an attack HRW said "could constitute a war crime".

Syrian lawyer Bashir al-Bassam told Diyaruna the August 16th incident "is one in a series of war crimes committed by Russian forces in Syria, and is a clear violation of UN laws and conventions".

He said the incident can be classified under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court of 1998, which enumerates eight acts that constitute war crimes, and could be referred to the International Criminal Court.

These include "willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health" and "extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly".

This could be used to indict Russia for this incident, al-Bassam said, stressing the need to hold Russia accountable for violations it is committing in Syria.

Russia is the primary backer of the Syrian regime, he added, which is responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of civilians since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011.

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