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Russian air strike appeared to target civilian building in Mariupol – Cleverly

The Foreign Office minister said the Russian attack in the besieged Ukrainian city appeared to have breached international conflict rules.

17 March 2022

A Russian air strike on Ukrainians sheltering in a theatre “looks to be specific targeting” of a civilian building and a “self-evident breach of international law”, a Foreign Office minister said.

Ukrainian authorities are still attempting to determine the fate of hundreds of civilians who had bunkered down in the theatre in Mariupol after images showed that an entire section of the three-storey building had collapsed after the strike on Wednesday evening.

Several hundred people had taken refuge in the building to seek safety from Moscow’s three-week siege of the port city, with the pavements outside the venue marked with huge white letters spelling out “children” in Russian, according to images released by the Maxar space technology company.

James Cleverly said the attack appeared to be a “breach” of internationally-agreed armed conflict rules and called for evidence to be documented of the assault to put together a war crime case.

The minister for Europe in the Foreign Office was asked on ITV’s Good Morning Britain whether he thought the bombing of the shelter “looked like a war crime”.

He said: “The targeting of civilian infrastructure is against international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict.

“Ultimately it is for international courts and tribunals to make the formal decision but self-evidently, this is civilian infrastructure which we’ve seen had the word ‘Kids’ painted in Russian outside of this building.

“This looks to be specific targeting of civilian infrastructure and, as I say, that is a self-evident breach of international law and the law of armed conflict.”

The Russian defence ministry has denied bombing the theatre in Mariupol.

Mr Cleverly said it was “incredibly important” that evidence of potential war crimes was collated so that “those people who are responsible for these, whether they are battlefield commanders, right up to the top of the organisation, can be held accountable once this war is concluded”.

Britain is one of six nations calling for a United Nations Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Thursday, ahead of an expected Friday vote on a resolution demanding protection for Ukrainian civilians “in vulnerable situations”.

“Russia is committing war crimes and targeting civilians,” the UK’s UN mission tweeted, announcing its joint plea alongside the US, France and others.

It comes amid suggestions that peace talks are beginning to show signs of progress.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said after a meeting on Tuesday that a neutral military status for Ukraine was being “seriously discussed” by the two sides, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia’s demands for ending the war were becoming “more realistic”.

But Mr Cleverly said any peace deal with Russia must be “one the Ukrainians genuinely believe in”.

“The Ukrainians shouldn’t be forced into concessions. You don’t negotiate with a gun to your head,” he told BBC Breakfast, as he pledged for the UK to continue supporting Ukraine by both humanitarian and military means.

As part of the resolution discussions, Russia has demanded that Nato pledge never to admit Ukraine to the alliance or station forces there.

In its stipulations, Ukraine has pushed for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees for Ukraine from several countries.

According to the Associated Press, an official in Mr Zelensky’s office said the main subject under discussion between the warring countries was whether Russian troops would remain in separatist regions in eastern Ukraine after the conflict and where the borders would be.

Ukraine wants one or more Western nuclear powers involved in the negotiations, with the outcome set out in a legally binding document.

Kyiv would be ready to discuss a neutral status if those terms are met, according to AP.

Domestically, ministers are under pressure to do more to help Ukrainian refugees gathering at the Polish border to reach the UK.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, in a letter to the Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary following a visit to Poland this week, called for the UK Government to provide free flights to those wanting to come to Britain, with coaches to the nearest Polish airports from key border crossing points.

In his letter, Sir Ed said he was “appalled” at the “absence of UK Government personnel on the ground at the border” and pressed ministers to “urgently step up” their response.

Downing Street on Wednesday confirmed that expressions of interest in taking in a Ukrainian refugee who does not have family ties to Britain, via the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme, had reached the 138,000 mark.

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