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UN walkout over Syrian 'barbarity'

Assad and Russia accused of war crimes as fresh assault launched on Aleppo

By Gavin Cordon

Published 26/09/2016

President Bashar Assad (Syrian Presidency via AP)
President Bashar Assad (Syrian Presidency via AP)

Britain's ambassador to the United Nations has walked out of an emergency session of the Security Council, accusing Syria's representative of showing no interest in halting the country's bloody civil war.

Matthew Rycroft joined the US and French ambassadors in a show of Western anger and frustration after the regime of President Bashar al-Assad launched a new offensive to take the beleaguered city of Aleppo.

Mr Rycroft told the meeting in New York that it was "difficult to deny" that the Syrian regime and its ally, Russia, were engaged in committing war crimes.

"After five years of conflict, you might think that the regime has had its fill of barbarity - that its sick bloodlust against its own people has finally run its course," he said. "But this weekend, the regime and Russia have instead plunged to new depths and unleashed a new hell on Aleppo."

The UN special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said a regime offensive to take the city had unleashed "unprecedented military violence" on its inhabitants, killing at least 213 civilians, many of them women and children.

He stated there had been reports of the use of bunker-busting bombs and incendiary weapons which created "fireballs of such intensity that they light up the pitch darkness in Aleppo as if it were daylight".

His intervention prompted fresh recriminations between Russia and the United States with US ambassador Samantha Power accusing Moscow of "barbarism".

She urged Security Council members to "have the courage to say who is responsible for this and in a single voice tell Russia to stop".

However, Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin insisted its air strikes were aimed at "terrorists" who were holding 200,000 people prisoner in the city. "They are trying to use women and children as a human shield," he said.

Earlier, Boris Johnson provoked a furious response from Russia after he said Moscow's forces may be guilty of war crimes in Syria.

The Foreign Secretary condemned the "barbaric" bombing of rebel-held areas of Aleppo and accused Mr Putin of "protracting" the conflict through his military support for Assad's regime.

The Russian Foreign Ministry hit back saying that if anyone was guilty of war crimes, it was British forces in Iraq.

Appearing on BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Johnson said it was "the right question to ask" whether an air strike last week on a UN aid convoy - widely blamed on Russian planes - constituted a war crime.

"A war crime is defined as when you attack something, attack a civilian target in the knowledge that it is a civilian target," he said. "We have an absolutely tragic situation now in Aleppo which is being bombed and repeatedly bombed in a way that is absolutely barbaric.

"I think when it comes to instances such as the bombing of civilian apartments in Aleppo we should be looking at whether or not that targeting is done in the knowledge that those are wholly innocent, wholly innocent civilian targets. That is a war crime."

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