In a report released this past week, UN investigators accused the Syrian government of deliberately carrying out two airstrikes on Damascus’ water supply, which has resulted in the loss of a water source for 5.5 million people in and around the capital. Based on the findings of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry, it has been determined that shrapnel from the airstrikes in question, which took place on December 23rd of last year, damaged the storages of fuel and chlorine, which then contaminated the water. It should be noted that the Wadi Barada valley, the area surrounding the water supply (up until this past January), had been under rebel control since 2012.
The Syrian government for its part, had initially accused the rebels of both carrying out the poisoning and damaging the infrastructure. The report found no evidence to back up such claims. Meanwhile, the same report describes the cutting of water as an attack on “objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population.” In other words, and not for the first time, the Syrian government is being accused of committing a war crime in a conflict spanning six years.
Accusations of war crimes have been a key feature of this conflict. Current and past UN reports have heavily blamed the Syrian government (along with Russia) for most incidents in the country. Although, in some instances, both sides (rebel and government) have been guilty of committing war crimes as exemplified by last year’s battle for the city of Aleppo. The latest report uncovered evidence of another war crime when the Syrian air force bombed a complex of five schools in Haas, a village in rebel-held Idlib province, on October 26th, killing 21 children among 36 civilians who died. In another incident, a humanitarian convoy was bombed, killing 14 aid workers in total. So far, investigators from the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry continue to be denied entry into Syria. Their findings have been based on interviews with residents, satellite imagery, and publicly available information.
With regard to peace talks, very little progress has been made. In fact, incidents, such as these serve to further dampen the prospects of a deal being reached soon. The Syrian opposition for example, recently stated that it will not attend a third round of talks aimed at bringing about a breakthrough in ending the conflict, which so far has claimed the lives of 470,000 and injured 1.9 million.
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