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Russian warplanes smashing hospitals
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 17 - 02 - 2016

On Monday, airstrikes hit four hospitals and two schools in Azaz and Maarat Al-Numan in an area controlled by the Free Syrian Army in northwest Syria. The warplanes were almost certainly Russian, though a single airstrike may have been carried out by aircraft from the air force of the bloodstained Assad regime.
One of the hospitals was run by the French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres. It is the standard practice of MSF to alert all combatants to the location of their hospitals. Thus in the Afghan city of Kandahar last October, the US air controllers had been told the whereabouts of an MSF treatment center which was nevertheless attacked killing doctors, orderlies and patients.
Likewise, Russian and Syrian commanders knew that there was an MSF facility in Maarat Al-Numan. Yet it was still struck. The difference between these two outrages was that after initial bluster and denials, the Americans admitted that they had made a mistake. Moscow's response to Monday's murderous attacks was an outright denial that MSF had been targeted deliberately.
Yet the destruction of four hospitals in a single day simply has to be more than a coincidence. The only alternative explanation is that the Russians are either technically incapable of precision bombing or are embarked upon an indiscriminate carpet bombing of civilian areas which is every bit as much of a war crime as attacking medical facilities. It is one of the frustrations of the US-led Coalition air strikes against Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) that the rules of engagement are generally strictly observed. If there is a clear risk of collateral damage, i.e., civilian casualties, the planned strike is aborted. So-called targets of opportunity can only be engaged when it is clear that the only people going to be hit are terrorists. Thus the Daesh killers now hide as much as possible within civilian areas, including hospitals. Thus also, many of the thousands of Coalition air missions over the last year have seen warplanes return to base with unreleased weaponry.
No such scrupulous rules of engagement are bothering Moscow's pilots and, of course, have never been of the slightest concern to Assad's flying butchers. The loathsome and completely indiscriminate barrel bomb pushed out of the back of high-flying helicopters epitomizes Assad's ruthless determination to obliterate all who oppose him, whether they are cradling a gun or a baby in their arms.
The international community makes much of the Geneva Convention and its laws on war crimes and genocide. But as Assad's appalling savagery is now being matched by his Russian friends, the world seems to be standing by and doing nothing but wring its hands in despair. Successive opportunities for decisive intervention have been missed by the Obama White House and with each failure to act, the enormity of what is happening to the Syrian people becomes even greater.
Assad will one day find justice probably at the hands of his own people. But Russia is still engaged with the world and can be impacted by retribution. Sanctions over its occupation of Crimea and sponsorship of revolt in eastern Ukraine are hurting. But what would hurt even more would be the indictment of Russian commanders and leading politicians for war crimes. If international warrants were issued, these individuals would be arrested the moment they set foot outside Russia.


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