UN says Israeli strike on Damascus airport halted aid deliveries

Member of inquiry panel says suspension lasted 2 weeks while runaway fixed; adds there is no corroboration of casualties in at least 14 alleged attacks by Israel this year

Repair works are seen at Syria's Damascus International Airport, after an airstrike attributed to Israel, June 12, 2022. (SANA)
Repair works are seen at Syria's Damascus International Airport, after an airstrike attributed to Israel, June 12, 2022. (SANA)

GENEVA — An Israeli airstrike on the airport of the Syrian capital Damascus in June that forced it to close for two weeks led to the suspension of humanitarian activities during that period, the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria said Wednesday.

On June 10, airstrikes attributed to Israel struck Damascus International Airport, causing significant damage and rendering the main runway unserviceable. The airport opened two weeks later following repairs.

Commission member Lynn Welchman told reporters in Geneva that her group was aware of some 14 Israeli airstrikes in Syria between January and June, adding that there were more strikes in August.

“We haven’t been able to so far corroborate civilian casualties. Civilian casualties are what we investigate,” she said.

Welchman added that the June 10 airstrike on Damascus airport did lead to “the suspension of all new and humanitarian air force delivery of humanitarian assistance which is extremely serious.”

Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled parts of Syria in recent years, but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations.

Israel has acknowledged, however, that it targets bases of Iran-allied armed groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror organization, which has sent thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Weapons are thought to be smuggled to groups via Syria on Iranian cargo airlines, which frequently land at Damascus International and the Tiyas, or T-4, airbase, outside of the central Syrian city of Palmyra.

Hebrew media reports have characterized alleged Israeli strikes as intended to prevent such weapons trafficking.

This photo released by ImageSat International on June 10, 2022, shows Syria’s Damascus International Airport after an airstrike attributed to Israel (ImageSat International)

Welchman said that continued involvement of third-party military activities “in Syrian airspace or indeed on the ground is not conducive in any way with protection of civilians in whichever part of Syria they take place.”

Earlier this month, Israel allegedly conducted an airstrike on the international airport of the northern city of Aleppo putting it out of commission for days before flights resumed last Friday.

This satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows the damage after an alleged Israeli strike targeting the Aleppo International Airport in Aleppo, Syria, September 7, 2022. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

Speaking about the sprawling camp of al-Hol in northern Syria that is housing tens of thousands of women and children linked to the Islamic State jihadist group, commission member Paulo Pinheiro said that several European countries that initially refused to repatriate children and their mothers have now taken some back. He did not name the countries.

Some 50,000 Syrians and Iraqis are crowded into tents in the fenced-in camp. Nearly 20,000 of them are children; most of the rest are the wives and widows of IS fighters. In a separate, heavily guarded section of the camp known as the annex are an additional 2,000 women from 57 other countries — they are considered the most die-hard IS supporters — along with their children, numbering about 8,000.

Speaking about IS fighters held in prisons controlled by the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the country’s northeast, commissioner Hanny Megally said there are about 10 prisons in the region that have approximately 10,000 male detainees from 20 different countries and 1,000 children under the age of 18.

“We’ve argued quite strongly of course, children should not be detained with adults especially if you suspect the adults actually a former fighter” with IS or have played a role with the Islamic State, Megally said.

“Their situation is very ambiguous. I mean there is no legal process,” Megally said adding that some members states have asked for a tribunal to be established there to try them. “We ourselves are actually not in a favor of that because that opens up all sorts of other issues about evidence and fair trial,” he said.

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