US rejects UN suggestion its Syria air strikes could constitute 'war crimes'

US Special Representative for Syria engagement and special envoy for the global coalition to defeat Daesh (the so-called IS), ambassador James Franklin Jeffrey, center, gestures during a UN meeting on Syria's situation at the UN Offices in Geneva on Thursday. — AFP

GENEVA — Washington's top envoy for Syria rejected on Thursday an allegation put forward in a UN report that some US-led air strikes in the conflict-torn country could possibly be categorized as indiscriminate attacks, amounting to "war crimes".

James Jeffrey, the US special representative on Syria, dismissed findings published in a UN report on Wednesday suggesting that the US-led coalition had with a number of air strikes in the country "failed to employ the necessary precautions to discriminate adequately between military objectives and civilians".

The UN Commission of Inquiry, which has been investigating human rights violations in Syria's drawn-out war for the past eight years, pointed to a series of air strikes carried out by the coalition in January in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, including one that killed 16 civilians.

"The Commission finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that international coalition forces may not have directed their attacks at a specific military objective, or failed to do so with the necessary precaution," the report said.

"Launching indiscriminate attacks that result in death or injury to civilians amounts to a war crime in cases in which such attacks are conducted recklessly," stressed the Commission, which has also suggested in previous reports that US-led strikes in Syria could amount to war crimes.

The Commission has also repeatedly accused the Syrian government and its main backer Russia, as well as other actors in the conflict of a wide range of war crimes.

"We take extreme care in every military operation," Jeffrey told journalists in Geneva when asked about the report.

"We do not accept the findings of that particular body," he said.

Jeffrey was in Geneva on Wednesday for consultations with the UN envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen.

Pedersen, a seasoned Norwegian diplomat who took over the job in January, is trying to help create a committee to draft a post-war constitution for Syria.

His predecessor, Staffan de Mistura, stepped down after his four years in the post ended with a year-long abortive push to form the constitutional committee.

But Pedersen, who has been consulting extensively with the various Syrian actors, as well as with countries with influence in the conflict, voiced optimism that the constitutional committee could soon see the light of day. — AFP