UN to investigate "murderous" attack on refugee camp in Syria

UN experts will investigate deadly airstrikes on a refugee camp in Syria, the organization's rights chief said Friday, as the Syrian regime denied any involvement in the attack.

At least 30 people, including children and women, were killed Thursday in the bombardment of tent settlements inside al-Kamoun camp in a rebel-held area in Syria's northern province of Idlib, near the Turkish border.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said the settlements should have been clearly visible from above: "It is extremely unlikely that these murderous attacks were an accident. It is far more likely they were deliberate and amount to a war crime."

Reports that the attacks were carried out by Syrian government aircraft still need to be verified, he said.

UN human rights experts and staff from other organizations "will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to research and record evidence," Zeid said.

Videos posted by activists from the camp showed pictures of badly mutilated bodies and burnt bodies of small children.

Meanwhile, Syrian regime forces launched an attempt late Friday to storm Hama's central jail to end days of riots by inmates, activists in the area said. Government troops were described as surrounding the prison, and heavy automatic weapons fire was heard in the area.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the 800 prisoners, many of whom are political prisoners detained without charges by the Syrian regime, were demanding "basic rights" including a fair trial or release. The group said inmates were further protesting a transfer of some political prisoners to a military facility in Sednaya, near Damascus, amid fears that those being transferred would be executed.

The non-governmental emergency group, White Helmets, whose volunteers work in mostly rebel-controlled areas in Syria, held the regime of President Bashar al-Assad responsible for what it called a "massacre" in the al-Kamoun refugee camp.

The Syrian military denied responsibility for the attack, suggesting that opposition rebels were behind it.

In Moscow, the Russian Defence Ministry said none of its planes were near the refugee camp at the time of the strike and suggested the bombardment could have come from rebels of al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of the terrorist network al-Qaeda, using rocket launchers.

Numerous governments and organizations condemned the attack.

In Washington, the White House said there were not yet "clear conclusions" about the strike in the refugee camp.

"Regardless of who is responsible, there is never any justification for carrying out a strike that targets innocent civilians, particularly innocent civilians that have already fled their homes to escape violence," spokesman Josh Earnest said. "And unfortunately, there is a long track record of the Assad regime doing precisely that."

He reiterated US calls for al-Assad to "leave power and make room for the kind of political transitions inside Syria that's long overdue."

A recent surge in violence in Syria has scuttled a major truce in the country that went into effect in late February.

The US-Russian-brokered truce excluded the Islamic State extremist militia and al-Nusra Front.

Islamist rebels led by al-Nusra Front seized a strategic town Friday near the embattled northern city of Aleppo from regime forces, a monitoring group said.

The insurgents took control of the town of Khan Touman and nearby villages in the southern Aleppo region, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The Islamists' progress followed an attack they started in the area late Wednesday, which sparked fierce clashes with regime forces.

At least 43 rebels and 30 regime soldiers were killed in the fighting, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

Khan Touman is strategically important because it is located near a highway linking Aleppo and the capital Damascus.

"With rebels' capture of Khan Touman, regime forces have lost a major defence line in the area of southern Aleppo," Rami Abdel-Rahman, the Observatory's head, told dpa.

A temporary truce took effect in the city of Aleppo midnight Wednesday following an agreement between the US and Russia.

At the time, the Syrian Army said it would abide by the ceasefire in Aleppo for 48 hours.

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said that "in general ... we have seen a decreased level of violence in Aleppo" for the first time in weeks.

"We want to see it continue," he said. "We want to see it be sustainable and enduring."

Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing for the cessation of hostilities in Aleppo to be extended, Kirby said.

Last update: Fri, 06/05/2016 - 22:19


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