By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – Western powers and Turkey accused Syria on Monday of imposing “starvation” and siege warfare in opposition-held areas, as Syrian officials said foreign forces were illegally occupying parts of the country suffering from U.S.-led sanctions.
Britain and the United States were among those at a U.N. Human Rights Council session in Geneva calling on Syria to end unlawful detention and disappearances, and allow humanitarian aid to reach all civilians after nearly 12 years of war.
Syrian deputy foreign minister Bashar Ja’afari, addressing the forum’s first review of Syria’s record since October 2016, said that the Syrian government was facilitating aid deliveries while facing a “systematic terrorist war”.
“France, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Turkey and Israel are all countries that are involved in the occupation of parts of my country and are violating international law by doing so,” he said.
“The Americans are experts in destroying the infrastructure in the Euphrates region, they are destroying oil and gas infrastructure,” he added.
Bathsheba Crocker, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, urged Syria to grant unhindered access for humanitarian aid to besieged areas and release people “arbitrarily imprisoned and held without trial”.
British Ambassador Simon Manley said Syria’s treatment of its people was “simply appalling”, adding: “We strongly condemn its attacks on civilians and infrastructure. The use of starvation and siege warfare in opposition-held areas is deplorable.”
Jerome Bonnafant, France’s envoy, urged President Bashar al-Assad’s government to halt “unlawful executions, torture and inhumane practices in places of detention”.
Russia, Assad’s ally, has provided critical military support, helping to turn the tide in the war.
“Obstacles towards normalising the situation in the country continue to include the illegal presence of foreign military contingents as well as the unilateral Western sanctions which run counter to international law,” said Russian Ambassador Gennady Gatilov.
Israel’s deputy ambassador, Adi Farjon Israel, said: “In the last decade, the Syrian regime has killed over 500,000 civilians, gassed its people, and used siege and starvation as a tactic of war. It has detained hundreds of thousands of people and subjected them to sexual violence, mock executions, and severe beatings, leading to death.”
Ja’afari did not directly address Farjon Israel’s remarks but said allegations raised that Syria’s military had targeted hospitals were “baseless lies”.
Assad’s government has denied many previous U.N. accusations of war crimes and says it does not torture prisoners.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)