Russian bombing of hospitals in Syria is a war crime, says Boris Johnson

UK foreign secretary calls for investigation but says ‘we cannot commit to a no-fly zone’

Britain's foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has called for Russia to be investigated for war crimes over its military action against civilians in Syria. Speaking during an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said that Russia risked becoming an international pariah because of its bombing attacks on civilian targets in cities such as Aleppo.

“Hospitals have been targeted with such frequency and precision that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this must be deliberate policy. The house will know that intentionally attacking a hospital amounts to a war crime. It is time, I think, for all these incidents to be fully and properly investigated with a view to assembling the necessary evidence to ensure that justice is done,” he said.

Mr Johnson called for demonstrations outside the Russian embassy in London, but he offered a cautious response to calls for Britain to enforce a no-fly zone. He said he had “every sympathy” for the proposal and would consult allies, but pointed out that enforcing a no-fly zone required a commitment to robust military action.

“We cannot commit to a no-fly zone unless we are prepared to shoot down planes or helicopters that violate that zone. We need to think very carefully about the consequences,” he said.


Britain has ruled out deploying ground forces in Syria, but the scale of the slaughter, particularly in Aleppo, has driven some MPs to press for tougher action against Russia and the Syrian government of president Bashar al-Assad.

Former culture secretary Andrew Mitchell compared Russia's bombardment of Aleppo to Germany's aerial bombardment of the city of Guernica during the Spanish civil war.

"The Russians are doing to the United Nations precisely what Italy and Germany did to the League of Nations in the 1930s, and they are doing to Aleppo precisely what the Nazis did to Guernica during the Spanish Civil War," he said.

Jihadi fighters

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary,

Emily Thornberry

, asked what action could be taken to drive the jihadi fighters who are resisting the Assad regime out of Aleppo. She noted that UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura had offered to personally escort those fighters out of the city. Mr Johnson said, however, that no such initiative would be practicable before a ceasefire was agreed and maintained.

“One cannot get rid of the jihadi fighters from eastern Aleppo as long as the population of Aleppo is being bombed in a ruthless aerial bombardment that is driving people into a position in which they will do anything to fight and resist the Assad regime,” he said.

“Our best hope is to persuade the Russians that it is profoundly in their interests to take the initiative, to win the acclaim of the international community, to do the right thing in Syria, to call off their puppets in the Assad regime, to stop the bombing, to bring peace to Aleppo and to have a genuine ceasefire.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times