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France floats ICC war crimes probe in Syria

France has said it will turn to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to launch investigations into alleged war crimes by Russia and Syria. This follows allegations of Russian obstruction at the UN Security Council.

The top French diplomat floated the idea Monday during an interview with public radio station France. It follows a trip last week to Moscow and Washington before a France-sponsored UN Security Council resolution aimed at a fresh ceasefire failed amid a Russian veto.

"These bombings - and I said it in Moscow - are war crimes," Ayrault said in an interview. "It includes all those who are complicit for what's happening in Aleppo, including Russian leaders.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the September shelling of hospitals in Aleppo a war crime, shortly before the US suspended its military cooperation with Russia on Syria.

"Who has carried out the bombardments?" Ayrault said in Monday's interview. "There are the Syrians, but also the Russians, who have come with their sophisticated weapons that allow them to penetrate down to bunkers where people are trying to protect themselves."

He said that France now wants to work through the ICC to launch a formal war crimes investigation. Since the collapse of efforts to reach a ceasefire last month, Russian and Syrian warplanes have launched their biggest offensive on Aleppo's rebel-held areas, in battles that could become a turning point in the five-year-old civil war.

"We shall contact the International Criminal Court prosecutor to see how she can launch these investigations," he said, echoing Kerry's call for war crimes investigations last week.

Syrien Krieg - Zerstörung in Aleppo (Reuters/A. Ismail)

Syrian government forces and their allies have kept eastern Aleppo under siege since July. The UN has warned that the Aleppo bombardment by Syrian and Russian warplanes could leave thousands dead by the year's end, and aid officials are demanding an immediate pause to the violence.

Yet it remains unclear how the ICC could proceed given that the court has no jurisdiction for crimes in Syria because it is not a member of the ICC. Legal experts however say a case could be brought to the ICC through the UN Security Council, but as Russia is a permanent veto-wielding member, it's unlikely that option is realistic.

"It will be complicated, but we are looking for other solutions," an unnamed French diplomatic source told the Reuters news agency. "Our jurists are trying to find other ways."

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Moscow has dismissed the talk of war crimes investigations, noting that the US and its allies also face allegations of recklessly killing civilians during military operations around the world.

"It is very dangerous to play with such words because war crimes also weigh on the shoulders of American officials," said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, the state-run RIA news agency reported.

Ayrault said Paris would also seek separate sanctions on the Syrian government at the United Nations once a joint inquiry by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concludes on Oct. 21.

That probe has identified two Syrian Air Force helicopter squadrons and two other military units it holds responsible for chlorine gas attacks on civilians.

jar/kl (Reuters, dpa)

 

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