Kerry: Russia, Syria Actions ‘Appropriate’ for War Crimes Investigation

Secretary of State John Kerry / AP
Secretary of State John Kerry / AP
October 7, 2016

Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that Russia and Syria should be subject to a war crimes investigation for their assaults on Syrian civilians during the country’s ongoing civil war, signaling another sign of heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Standing with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in Washington, Kerry told reporters that Syrian forces attacked a hospital overnight that killed 20 people and wounded over 100 others

"Russia and the regime owe the world more than an explanation about why they keep hitting hospitals, and medical facilities, and women and children," Kerry said.

He noted that the attacks by Russia and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on soft targets are "way beyond" accidental.

Kerry said that the Russian and Syrian governments are responsible for this campaign against the Syrian population–what he described as a strategy to "terrorize civilians."

These actions "beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes," Kerry said.

The Syrian government has repeatedly launched air strikes against hospitals and other civilian areas in the rebel-held city of Aleppo in recent weeks.

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon described these deliberate attacks on civilian targets as a "slaughterhouse" last month, the Associated Press reported.

"Those using ever more destructive weapons know exactly what they are doing–they know they are committing war crimes," Ban said, without naming any countries. Syria’s government is waging a major offensive in Aleppo and both Syria and Russia are carrying out airstrikes on the city.

Doctors Without Borders, which supported both of the hospitals damaged Wednesday, said a "brutal and relentless onslaught from air and land" has left eastern Aleppo with just seven surgical doctors to treat a population of some 250,000.

The head of the organization, also known by its French acronym MSF, said people are being taken off life support because of a "multitude" of wounded, and doctors in eastern Aleppo are left to "await their own deaths."

A week-long ceasefire brokered by the U.S. and Russia collapsed last month, leading Russian and Syrian forces to continue their bombardment of Aleppo. Kerry on Monday cut off communications between Washington and Moscow regarding Syria in the wake of the broken ceasefire, although he spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, over the phone on Wednesday.

The Russian Defense Ministry warned Thursday that it would shoot down any U.S.-led coalition jets that target Assad’s forces amid reports that the Obama administration was considering taking more robust action inside Syria.