Accessibility links

UN Panel: Fighting Causes Syrians 'Unspeakable Suffering'

FILE - Independent investigator on war crimes in Syria Paulo Pinheiro addresses U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, March 17, 2015.

Sieges by Syrian government forces, rebel fighters and Islamic State militants are having a "devastating effect" in a conflict that "shows no signs of abating," U.N. investigators said Tuesday as they delivered their latest assessment of the crisis in Syria.

Paulo Pinheiro, the head of the U.N.'s commission of inquiry on Syria, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva there is little attempt to adhere to international law as most, if not all, of the warring parties carry out indiscriminate attacks in areas populated by civilians.

The result, he said, is a level of trauma that cannot be underestimated.

"Civilians are the main victims of an ever-accelerating cycle of violence," Pinheiro told the council in a forceful statement.

"The warring parties' failure to protect civilians, as well as their seemingly deliberate decision to put civilians in harm's way, has led to unspeakable suffering," he said.

Fighting in Syria has killed more than 220,000 people since the conflict there began in March 2011.

Millions flee violence

The U.N. estimates more than 12 million people are in need of aid, with the violence sending 4 million refugees from the country and forcing 7.6 million others from their homes within Syria.

The commission highlighted the ongoing use of barrel bombs, saying those responsible for the relentless attacks that deliberately target civilians must be held accountable.

Pinheiro also criticized the international community for failing to bring a diplomatic resolution to the conflict.

He said the lack of "decisive action" has "nourished and deeply entrenched a culture of impunity" in Syria.

"Protracted war represents a profound failure of diplomacy," Pinheiro said.

Two rounds of U.N.-brokered talks last year ended with little progress.

Any new efforts toward a negotiated solution have failed to launch as the fighting has grown more complicated with the military, rebels and militants all battling for territory.

Syrian Ambassador Husam Eddin Aala told the council that Pinheiro's commission is biased against the Syrian government, which rejects the report. He said accusations of targeting schools and hospitals and denying humanitarian aid are all political and illogical.

Kurdish fighters retake town

Meanwhile, Syrian activists said Tuesday that Kurdish forces from the People's Protection Units, or YPG, seized a key military base in northern Syria from Islamic State militants.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors fighting in Syria, said Kurdish fighters captured the Brigade 93 base Monday night, giving them a strategic position within 50 kilometers (30 miles) of the de facto Islamic State group's self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa.

YPG fighters and their allies later entered parts of the nearby town of Ein Issa, the last major residential area north of Raqqa.

Taking Brigade 93 further squeezes the Islamic State fighters, especially after they lost a major supply line last week when the Kurds captured Tal Abyad, which had been under control of the Islamist group for a year, on the Turkish border.

Meanwhile, Syria's antiquities chief Tuesday confirmed Islamic State fighters had destroyed two ancient religious mausoleums in the old city of Palmyra, which fell to the extremist group in May.

Maamoun Abdulkarim said the extremists had blown up the tombs of Mohamed bin Ali and Nizar Abu Bahaaeddine, two Muslim figures.

The jihadists consider tombstones and mausoleums to be a violation of its strict interpretation of Islamic law, and have regularly destroyed both when located on territory under it controls.

Some material for this report came from AP and AFP.