As civilian casualties mount across Syria and human rights violations continue unabated, the UN rights chief expressed serious concern on Friday that some parties to the conflict, including ISIL terrorist fighters, may be using the COVID-19 pandemic as “an opportunity to regroup and inflict violence on the population”.
Calling the deteriorating situation “a ticking time-bomb that must not be ignored”, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet lamented: "We are receiving more reports every day of targeted killings and bombings from one end of the country to the other, with many such attacks taking place in populated areas".
#Syria: We are receiving more reports every day of targeted killings & bombings from one end of the country to the other, with many attacks taking place in populated areas – @mbachelet. She urges all parties in Syria to "step back & give peace a chance" 👉 https://t.co/R49FA0NWeC pic.twitter.com/VrUBLzaOdk— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) May 8, 2020
Last month, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) took 35 civilian lives, according to the UN Human Rights Office, compared to seven the previous month.
And since the start of March, residential neighbourhoods and markets have been targeted.
Nearly all attacks have occurred in northern and eastern parts of the country under the control of Turkish armed forces and affiliated armed groups, or of the opposing Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces .
The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) office recapped an incident that occurred on 28 April in which a fuel truck exploded in a market in the northwestern city of Afrin, that killed 51 people, 29 of whom were civilians.
In most cases, no group has claimed responsibility for these attacks.
“Syria has been wracked by violence for nearly a decade resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and displacement of millions”, asserted Ms. Bachelet. “Countless families have been traumatized, and numerous cities, towns, villages and individual homes have been destroyed".
And in southern Syria, the UN documented 52 incidents of targeted killings since early March that have left 17 civilians dead in the Government-controlled Dar'a Governorate.
OHCHR singled out a 4 April attack where a former armed group killed nine police officers in the town of al-Muzairib in western rural Dar'a. And in the past two weeks, ISIL has claimed responsibility for three attacks in the area.
The UN human rights chief also expressed alarm at the number of deaths and injuries caused by explosive remnants of war, such as landmines and other forms of unexploded ordnance, noting that since the start of March, 41 incidents have resulted in 29 civilian deaths.
"If the current patterns of violations and abuses continue to spread and escalate, there is a risk the country will enter another spiral of extreme and wide-spread violence committed with impunity by all parties to the conflict", maintained the UN rights chief.
Ceasefire mostly holding
Meanwhile, a ceasefire in the north-western province of Idlib, brokered by Turkey and Russia, who support opposing sides in the conflict, is mostly holding.
However, intermittent clashes and ground-based strikes between pro-Government forces and armed groups continue to be reported in western rural Aleppo and southern rural Idlib.
Ms. Bachelet echoed once again calls by the UN Secretary General for a global ceasefire which the world battles the common enemy of COVID-19, urging all parties to the various conflicts in Syria to silence the guns.
"The protection of civilian life is paramount, and the blatant disregard for civilian safety runs contrary to the obligations that all parties must uphold under international humanitarian law and international human rights law," concluded the UN High Commissioner for Human.
"I urge all those continuing to fight, kill and displace the battered and beleaguered Syrian people to step back, and give peace a chance."