A Russian plane was apparently behind an air strike on a Syrian market that killed 84 people in November, an attack which could amount to a war crime, according to UN investigators.
The findings, reported by the UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria, were the first time the group has pinned responsibility for civilian deaths in Syria directly on Moscow.
In the same report, the commission said the US-led coalition in the war against the Islamic State group failed to properly vet the target of an air raid on March 20 last year that killed 150 civilians sheltering in a school in northern Syria.
“The international coalition should have known the nature of the target,” the report said, adding that the oversight had put the coalition in violation of humanitarian law.
The coalition took responsibility for the strike, saying it had targeted 30 IS fighters it believed were hiding in the building.
“All parties share guilt for completely disregarding the rules of war,” said the commission’s chairman, Paulo Pinheiro, at a press conference introducing the report.
He said parties were resorting to “increasingly cynical methods” to secure objectives in Syria’s complex civil war.
The report documented widespread abuses of international law, including leveraging aid in combination with siege warfare to force civilians “to surrender or starve”.
It said pro-government forces had bombed hospitals and clinics in opposition-held territory in north-west Syria.
According to the report, “all available information” indicates that a Russian plane carried out the November 13 air strike that hit a market near houses and a police station run by Western-backed Syrian rebels in the town of Atarib, in Idlib province.
At least 84 people were killed and 150 wounded in the attack.
The commission, which was created six years ago to document alleged human rights violations by any side in Syria’s war, said the plane that carried out the air strike took off from Hemeimeem air base in Syria, which is run by Russian forces.
Moscow is a main backer of President Bashar Assad’s forces and has helped turn the tide of war in his favour with a campaign of air strikes.
The Russian military denies killing civilians. It says its forces in Syria have only launched strikes on militant targets after verifying their location, and have never hit areas populated by civilians.
Tuesday’s report, prepared under a current mandate from the UN-backed Human Rights Council, lays out the investigators’ findings during a six-month probe conducted between July 8 and January 15.
“All information available indicates that a Russian fixed-wing aircraft that took off from Hemeimeem air base conducted the strikes,” the report said.
“Early warning observers monitored the take-off of a fixed-wing aircraft, whose pilots communicated in Russian, from Hemeimeem airbase at 1.37pm and tracked the aircraft going south and then to the north east all the way to Atarib where it arrived at 2.07pm.
“No Syrian aircraft were observed in the area in the two hours preceding the air strikes.”
The report said the attack on the densely populated area, involving unguided weapons, “may amount to a war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks resulting in death and injury to civilians”.
Advocacy groups, including Human Rights Watch, have previously linked Russia to alleged war crimes and human rights violations in Syria, such as bombing civilians in rebel-held eastern Aleppo in 2016.