Moscow’s role criticised after missile strikes kill dozens of people

Britain and France criticised Russia’s role in Syria’s war and said Moscow must stop the conflict rather than fuelling it, after missile strikes killed dozens of civilians on Monday.

Almost 50 civilians were killed when missiles hit at least five medical facilities and two schools in rebel-held areas of Syria, according to the UN, which called the attacks a blatant violation of international law.

Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu blamed Russia for at least one of the strikes, when civilians and children were killed in a school and hospital in the town of Azaz.

“The reported air strikes conducted on hospitals in northern Syria in recent days could amount to war crimes and must be investigated,” said British foreign secretary Philip Hammond.

“I am appalled that the Assad regime and its Russian supporters are still bombing innocent civilians despite the agreement last Thursday to a cessation of hostilities... Russia needs to explain itself, and show through its actions that it is committed to ending the conflict, rather than fuelling it.”

Russia, which has said it is targeting terrorist organisations and their allies, does not have a vessel in its Caspian Sea flotilla that is capable of hitting a hospital in Syria’s Idlib governorate, a defence ministry spokesman was quoted as saying.

“We categorically reject such claims, even more so because each time those who make such claims prove unable somehow to corroborate their unsubstantiated accusations,” said Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian president.

In a conference call with journalists, he said those making allegations should do as Moscow does and rely on the “primary source” — official announcements from the Syrian government.

He said Syria’s ambassador to Russia said the hospital was destroyed by the US military. A US-led coalition is carrying out strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria.

France’s new foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayraul, told lawmakers the immediate urgency was to protect civilians. “All bombings must stop. It’s unacceptable that hospitals and schools are targeted. These acts are flagrant violations of international law,” he said.

Last week in Munich, international powers agreed to try to bring about a “cessation of hostilities” within a week, and US secretary of state John Kerry accused Russia of hitting legitimate opposition groups with its bombing campaign. Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said the accusations were “just not true”.

Mr Ayrault said the Munich deal must be respected.

“Of course, we talk to Russia, but we have demands and our demands today are for the respect of the commitments made in Munich. Russia, like other partners, agreed to end hostilities, end bombings and allow humanitarian aid.


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