Germany's Maas calls attacks on civilians in Idlib 'war crimes'

"Germany calls on Syrian and Russia to listen to these voices, [and] to stop ignoring the facts. As parties to the conflict, they have an obligation to protect civilians. The regime and Russia are instead bombing schools and hospitals. Indiscriminate attacks on civilians are war crimes and those responsible must be held accountable," German told the UN Security Council on Thursday.

German Heiko Maas on Thursday said indiscriminate attacks against civilians in the north-western Syrian province of Idlib are "war crimes" and "those responsible must be held accountable."

Speaking at a United Nations Security Council meeting, Maas said the Assad and its ally Russia "have an obligation to protect civilians," but are instead "bombing civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools."

"Conducting counter-terrorism measures doesn't absolve anyone from respecting international humanitarian law," the German minister said.

Nearly 950,000 people have been displaced in north-western since December due to an ongoing campaign by the pro-Assad forces and ally Russia in the last rebel stronghold in the country, according to the UN.

UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said over half a million children were among those pushed from their homes due to the escalation in fighting.

In briefing the council, she said around 2,000 children were killed in the past two years and reiterated UN chief Antonio Guterres' call for a political solution in Syria.

"The longer this war continues, the more children are going to die on the world's watch," Fore said. "Millions of Syrian children are crying tonight - from hunger and cold, from wounds and pain, from fear, loss and heartbreak."

Maas also called for an increased effort to find a political solution, stressing that "reconciliation without accountability for the terrible crimes committed will not work."

"A regime that has been killing and torturing its own people cannot bring lasting peace and stability to Syria," Maas said.

The German politician also urged the Security Council to ensure full humanitarian access to the war-torn country, saying "cross-border aid remains of vital importance."

Last month, the 15-member council extended the delivery of aid to Syria through two border crossings in Turkey, but halted humanitarian access through the country's north-east due to opposition by Russia and China.

Moscow had argued that cross-border assistance was no longer needed because it was being delivered by the Assad regime, which does not consent to the UN aid mechanism.

The Security Council asked Guterres to report back on possible alternative routes to the shuttered Al Yarubiyah crossing between Syria and Iraq.

The UN secretary general suggested in his report that the Tal Abiyad crossing between Syria and Turkey could be used to deliver aid to civilians in the north-east.

UN deputy emergency relief coordinator Ursula Mueller warned the council on Thursday that "if viable alternatives to Al Yarubiyah are not found for medical items, the gap between the humanitarian response and humanitarian needs will increase further."

"If medicine runs out and medical facilities are unable to carry out life-saving procedures, deaths will occur," Mueller said, adding that the first shortages for facilities providing reproductive health care are expected by March.

Idlib, near Turkey's southern border, falls within a de-escalation zone laid out in a deal between Turkey and Russia in late 2018.

The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the cease-fire, launching frequent attacks inside the territory, where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

The de-escalation zone is currently home to 4 million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced in recent years by regime forces throughout the war-torn country.

Some 1 million Idlib refugees have moved towards the Turkish border in recent months, fleeing attacks by the Assad regime and its allies, which caused a desperate humanitarian situation.

Turkey has called for an immediate halt to the attacks on Idlib and for the cease-fire to be followed, warning that if the attacks do not stop, it would act.

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