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UN setting up group to investigate Syria hospital bombings

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced Friday he is setting up an internal investigation into the bombing of hospitals in Syria which had previously flagged their coordinates to avoid air strikes.

Guterres said in a statement the board would look at “a series of incidents that have occurred in northwest Syria” since the establishment of the so-called “Idlib de-escalation zone” in September last year by Russia and Turkey.

The committee is not a “criminal investigation” but aimed to “establish the facts for the secretary general,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The board, headed by Nigerian General Chikadibia Obiakor, will start its work on September 30 but no deadline was given for it to submit its findings.

Several dozen medical facilities with links to the UN have been damaged or destroyed by bombs this year. Russian has denied deliberately targeting civilian installations.

Human Rights Watch urged the new board to “work quickly to attribute attacks on medical facilities and other humanitarian sites in Syria to the forces who committed them” and called on Guterres to publish the findings.

Ten members of the UN Security Council called on Guterres in July to establish an investigative body, angering Russia, diplomatic sources said.

The British ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, hailed the establishment of the investigative committee.

“Developments in Hama and Idlib governorates in northwest Syria show a repeat of the military tactics deployed by Syrian forces in the taking of Aleppo city and eastern Ghouta,” she warned, adding her support to a resolution being thrashed out since August for a ceasefire in the northwest.

Diplomatic sources said that while Russia is taking part in the discussions on a ceasefire resolution, it deems such a move unnecessary since a ceasefire was declared last year by Moscow and Damascus.

Russia is also seeking to insert clauses in the text excluding “anti-terrorist” operations from any ceasefire deal, something western countries oppose, the same sources said.

US warship docks in Lebanon amid regional tensions
Beirut (AFP) Sept 15, 2019 -
The United States navy destroyer USS Ramage docked briefly in Lebanon, the US embassy in Beirut said on Sunday, amid heightened regional tensions.

The Arleigh-Burke-class vessel, capable of intercepting ballistic missiles, stopped Saturday for a “one-day goodwill visit on the sidelines of its participation in ongoing efforts to ensure freedom of navigation and free-flow commerce in the eastern Mediterranean”, a statement from the US embassy said.

US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard and Vice Admiral James Malloy hosted “an on-board reception for US and Lebanese officials”, it added.

During the reception, the vice admiral and ambassador underscored “the ongoing commitment of the United States to be a strong and enduring partner for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), with the goals of enhancing military-to-military cooperation and promoting security and stability in the region”, according to the statement.

“This remarkable US ship, docked in this remarkable Lebanese city speaks volumes about the partnership between the US and Lebanese militaries,” Richard said.

The US is currently engaged in a stand-off with Iran and its Lebanese ally, the Shiite movement Hezbollah, which has been slapped with US sanctions and classified as a “terrorist” organisation by Washington.

Hezbollah is a key player in Lebanese politics, represented both in parliament and the cabinet.

The movement is militarily involved in the war in neighbouring Syria, having sent fighters to the aid of the Iran-allied regime.

In July, the US imposed sanctions on three senior Hezbollah officials in Lebanon, including two lawmakers, in the first such move against members of parliament.

At the end of August, powerful US financial sanctions were imposed on the Jammal Trust Bank in Lebanon, which was accused of acting as a key financial institution for Hezbollah, an arch-foe of US ally Israel.

The ship’s docking comes as tensions spike between Hezbollah and Israel, including an exchange of cross-border fire on September 1.

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US rejects UN suggestion its Syria air strikes could constitute ‘war crimes’

Geneva (AFP) Sept 12, 2019

Washington’s top envoy for Syria rejected Thursday an allegation put forward in a UN report that some US-led air strikes in the conflict-torn country could possibly be categorised as indiscriminate attacks, amounting to “war crimes”.

James Jeffrey, the US special representative on Syria, dismissed findings published in a UN report on Wednesday suggesting that the US-led coalition had with a number of air strikes in the country “failed to employ the necessary precautions to discriminate adequately be … read more

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