Middle East

Syria war: UN appalled by deadly attack on Idlib camp for displaced people

A man sits in a tent damaged by a missile attack on the Qah camp for displaced people in Idlib province, Syria (21 November 2019) Image copyright AFP
Image caption A number of tents and makeshift shelters at Qah camp were damaged or set ablaze

A UN official has said he is appalled by an attack on a camp for displaced people in north-western Syria that left 12 people dead.

Missiles struck the crowded facility in Qah, in opposition-held Idlib province, destroying tents and sparking fires, rescue workers and medics said. Most of the victims were children and women.

A maternity hospital was also damaged, and four aid workers were hurt.

Activists alleged that the missiles were fired by pro-government forces.

Idlib, which is dominated by jihadist groups, is the last stronghold of the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The UN estimates that region is home to 3 million people, including a million children. More than 40% of them come from other previously opposition-held areas.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Medics said many of those killed or wounded were children

Qah, which is close to the border with Turkey, is one of the most densely populated camps in Syria.

"I find it sickening that missiles hit vulnerable civilians, including elderly people, women and children sheltering in tents and makeshift shelters in a camp for internally displaced people," said Mark Cutts, the UN's deputy regional humanitarian co-ordinator for the Syria crisis.

"This horrific incident needs to be fully investigated," he added.

Mr Cutts noted that international humanitarian law required all parties to strictly distinguish between civilians and combatants, and to take constant care to spare civilians in the conduct of military operations. Intentionally directing an attack against civilians would constitute a war crime.

Also in Idlib on Wednesday, six civilians were killed in an air strike on the town of Maarat al-Numan, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group.

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Media captionQuentin Sommerville reports on Syria's hidden hospitals

Since late April, the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has verified more than 1,000 civilian casualties, hundreds of them children, in north-western Syria as a result of hostilities between pro-government and opposition forces.

Dozens of attacks against medical facilities and staff have also been verified.

A ceasefire negotiated by Russia, whose military campaign in support of Mr Assad has turned the tide of the civil war in his favour, and Turkey, which backs the opposition, halted a government assault on Idlib in August. But sporadic fighting has continued.