Russia tells none of its aircraft had flown over camp near Aleppo as UN officials tell assaults could amount to war crime
Syrias military command has denied it carried out airstrikes on a refugee camp near the Turkish border that killed at least 28 people, but a senior UN officialsaid initial reports indicated a government plane was responsible for the murderous attacks.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, said he was outraged by the incident and called for those responsible to be held accountable. Ban urged the security council to refer the situation in Syria to the international criminal court.
Zeid Raad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights told Thursdays assaults were almost certainly a deliberate war crime. France described them as a revolting and unacceptable act that could amount to a war crime or crime against humanity.
Syrias ally, Russia, insisted that none of its aircraft had flown over the camp at Sarmada, 20 miles west of Aleppo, the new focal point of the five-year-long war. Russia told fighters from the al-Qaida affiliate Nusra Front might have intentionally or accidentally fired on the camp.
Denials from Damascus and Moscow came as a coalition of rebels including Nusra reportedly captured a strategic village from pro-government forces-out near Aleppo. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights( SOHR) told 43 rebels and 30 pro-government troops had died since Thursday in the battle for Khan Tuman, which overlooks the main route from the capital.
Nusra and Islamic State have both been designated terror groups by the UN and were not included in the cessation of hostilities deal brokered by Russia and the US that began in late February. Mainstream rebel groups that are supported by Arab and western countries often fight alongside Nusra complicating the ceasefire efforts.
Al Hussein told: Dedicated these tent settlements have been in these locations for several weeks, and can be clearly viewed from the air, it is extremely unlikely that these murderous assaults were an accident.
He too urged members of the UN security council to refer Syria to the ICC so that there would be a clear path to punishment for those who commit crimes like these. Endeavours to do so before have been blocked by Moscow.
Stephen OBrien, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, also demanded an immediate investigation. If this obscene attack is found to be a deliberate targeting of a civilian structure, it could amount to a war crime, he said.
Footage shared on social media presented rescue workers putting out fires which still burned among charred tent frames pitched in a muddied field. White smoke billowed from smouldering ashes, and a burned and bloodied torso could be seen.
Outrage over the Sarmada killings erupted shortly after a Russian orchestra held a celebratory concert in Palmyra, the ancient desert city liberated from Isis in a Syrian army offensive backed by Russian air power.
The performance prompted angry comments about Russian is supportive of Bashar al-Assads forces-out in Aleppo and elsewhere. Philip Hammond, Britains foreign secretary, called it a tasteless attempt to distract attention from the suffering of millions.
The White House said the Sarmada attack was indefensible. The opposition Syrian National Coalition described it as an appalling carnage by regime forces-out against civilians and said it presented Assad was not a serious partner for peace.
Mdecins Sans Frontires also condemned the attack. It is extremely concerning and a clear sign again that civilians are paying the price in this conflict, told Sam Taylor, the MSF communications coordinator for Syria.
The International Rescue Committee called it a disturbing new low in a war that has already shocked the world with routine assaults against hospitals, colleges and bakeries. It added: There must be an end to the targeting of civilians, and renewed efforts to find a political solution that will bring this conflict to an end.
On Thursday Russia blocked a British-drafted security council statement which would have denounced the surge in violence in Aleppo and assaults against civilians. There is one country that could not agree[ to] it and its Russia, Britains ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, told reporters. That does speak volumes about their support for protection of the Assad regime.
In a separate development on Friday, Syrian opposition sources reported that government troops had begun an attack on the central prison in Hama, where 800 inmates, including political prisoner, had taken control of a section of the jail and were holding guards captive. The authorities had cut energy to the prison and were avoiding food from getting in, said the SOHR.
The Sarmada attack highlighted the growing savagery of the conflict in the aftermath of the apparent collapse of the ceasefire. UN-organised peace talks in Geneva are deadlocked after an opposition walkout and the government delegations refusal to discuss a political transition that would watch Assad eased out of power. The ceasefire was patchy from the start, but its fate was effectively sealed by the launch of the regimes offensive last weekend in Aleppo.
No date has been set for a resumption of the Geneva talks, or firm arrangements put in place to facilitate deliveries of food and medicines for hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians living in besieged areas.
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