U.S. charges two Russians in international hacking, malware conspiracy

U.S. charges two Russians in international hacking, malware conspiracy
By Jonathan Stempel and Raphael Satter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two Russian residents have been criminally charged in the United States over an alleged multi-year, international scheme to steal money and property by using malware to hack into computers, according to an indictment made public on Thursday.

Maksim Yakubets was accused of being the leader of a group of conspirators involved with Bugat malware and botnet, while his close associate Igor Turashev allegedly handled various functions for the conspiracy, the indictment said.

The indictment identifies Yakubets as one of the earliest users of a family of malicious software tools called Bugat — better known as Dridex — which has been bedeviling American banks and businesses for more than eight years.

Cybersecurity experts say the malware, which first appeared in late 2011, is responsible for millions of dollars in damages worldwide. Experts have long speculated that the malware is the brainchild of a Russian hacking group.

The conspiracy allegedly began around November 2011, and several entities – including a school, an oil firm, First Commmonwealth Bank – were among the defendants’ victims, according to the indictment filed with the federal court in Pittsburgh. Two of the transactions were processed through Citibank in New York, the indictment says.

The indictment is dated Nov. 12 but was unsealed on Thursday.

U.S. and British authorities are expected later Thursday to detail charges against a Russian national over allegations of computer hacking and bank fraud schemes, according to a U.S. Department of Justice statement.

That announcement characterized the Russian national as being “allegedly responsible for two of the worst computer hacking and bank fraud schemes of the past decade.”

Malware is a software program designed to gather sensitive information, such as passwords and bank account numbers, from private computers by installing viruses and other malicious programs.

Spokespeople for First Commonwealth Bank and Citibank did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Susan Heavy, Lisa Lambert and Jonathan Stempel; additional reporting by Raphael Satter Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Nick Zieminski)

Ukraine says it captured Russian military intelligence hit squad

Head of the Security Service of Ukraine Vasyl Hrytsak (SBU) speaks during a news conference, dedicated to the alleged detention of members of a sabotage-reconnaissance group, who according to SBU were sent by Russian intelligence agencies, in Kiev, Ukraine April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s security service SBU said on Wednesday it had captured a Russian military intelligence hit squad responsible for the attempted murder of a Ukrainian military spy in the run-up to a presidential election on Sunday.

The issue of how to deal with Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014 and backs pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, is prominent ahead of the vote, with incumbent Petro Poroshenko casting himself as the commander-in-chief Ukraine needs to defend the country.

Vasyl Hrytsak, the head of the SBU, the main intelligence agency, told a news conference in Kiev that seven members of the Russian group had been detained and charged and that an eighth person had been detained on Wednesday morning.

Two of the group’s members were Russian citizens, said Anatoly Matios, Ukraine’s military prosecutor, describing them as staff officers of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. The other six were Ukrainians.

There was no immediate reaction from Russia’s GRU.

The SBU has reported before that it captured groups belonging to Russian special agencies.

“Those detained were involved in the attempted murder of an employee of the Ukrainian defense ministry’s intelligence service…in Kiev in April,” said Matios, adding the group had planted a bomb beneath the man’s car which had gone off prematurely, badly injuring one of the accused.

The SBU released a video of the same incident which showed a man placing the bomb under a car before a big explosion. The video showed a man lying in a hospital bed with part of his right arm missing saying he was Russian and born in Moscow.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Critics label Putin a hypocrite for attending veteran dissident’s wake

Russian President Vladimir Putin pays respect to founder of Russia’s oldest human rights group and Sakharov Prize winner Lyudmila Alexeyeva in Moscow, Russia December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin critics accused President Vladimir Putin of hypocrisy for attending the wake on Tuesday of a veteran Soviet and Russian dissident who was a staunch critic of his administration.

Putin has been accused by rights groups of muzzling the media, jailing his opponents and clamping down on civil society over the 19 years in which he has dominated Russia’s political landscape and enjoyed consistently high popularity ratings.

People walk past a picture of the founder of Russia's oldest human rights group and Sakharov Prize winner, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, during her memorial service in Moscow, Russia December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

People walk past a picture of the founder of Russia’s oldest human rights group and Sakharov Prize winner, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, during her memorial service in Moscow, Russia December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

The president joined hundreds of others who paid their respects at the open-cask ceremony for Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the founder of Russia’s oldest human rights group who died on Saturday aged 91.

But while Putin attended, a notable absentee was Alexeyeva’s fellow human rights veteran Lev Ponomaryov, jailed last week for calling in a Facebook post for rallies in support of activists at two political groups that authorities have labeled extremist.

“Instead of Lev Ponomaryov, Vladimir Putin will bid farewell to Alexeyeva. This is what it means to spit on someone’s grave,” journalist and long-standing Kremlin critic Viktor Shenderovich wrote on Facebook.

Ponomaryov, 77, is serving a 16-day sentence. A court rejected his appeal for dispensation to go to the funeral.

Asked on Monday about Putin’s possible attendance, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it would be impossible for the president to not pay his respects on the same day that he was due to meet the Kremlin human rights council, on which Alexeyeva sat for many years.

Alexeyeva went into exile during the Communist era, returning to Russia after the break-up of the Soviet Union. She was briefly detained by police at an anti-Kremlin protest at the age of 82 in 2009 and denounced Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Putin laid a bouquet at her cask and sat briefly nearby, exchanging words with another attendee before leaving through a side exit.

“Maybe it’s crappy PR, maybe something else,” wrote opposition politician Gennady Gudkov.

“But it’s entirely obvious that human rights defenders, environmentalists and in fact everyone who disagrees with the authorities’ course are persecuted in Russia with his (Putin’s) silent agreement.”

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by John Stonestreet)

Space crew survives plunge to Earth after Russian rocket fails

The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying the crew of astronaut Nick Hague of the U.S. and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Russia blasts off to the International Space Station (ISS) from the launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

By Shamil Zhumatov

BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – The two-man U.S.-Russian crew of a Soyuz spacecraft en route to the International Space Station was forced to make a dramatic emergency landing in Kazakhstan on Thursday when their rocket failed in mid-air.

U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin landed safely without harm and rescue crews who raced to locate them on the Kazakh steppe quickly linked up with them, NASA, the U.S. space agency, and Russia’s Roscosmos said.

It was the first serious launch problem experienced by a manned Soyuz space mission since 1983 when a fire broke out at the base of the booster rocket while the crew was preparing for lift-off. The crew narrowly escaped before a large explosion.

Thursday’s problem occurred when the first and second stages of a booster rocket, launched from the Soviet-era cosmodrome of Baikonur in the central Asian country, were separating, triggering emergency systems soon after launch.

The Soyuz capsule carrying the two men then separated from the malfunctioning rocket and made what NASA called a steep ballistic descent to Earth with parachutes helping slow its speed. A cloud of sand billowed up as the capsule came down on the desert steppe.

Rescue crews then raced to the scene to retrieve them with reports of paratroopers parachuting to their landing spot.

The failure is a setback for the Russian space program and the latest in a string of mishaps.

Moscow immediately suspended all manned space launches, the RIA news agency reported, while Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said he had ordered a state commission to be set up to investigate what had gone wrong.

Unnamed Russian space industry sources cited by news agencies said it would be hard to establish what had caused the incident because the booster rocket segments involved had been badly damaged in their fall.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator who was in Kazakhstan to witness the launch, said in a statement that the failure had been caused by an anomaly with the rocket’s booster.

“A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted,” he said, saying the safety of the crew was the utmost priority for NASA.

Photographs released by Roscosmos after the rescue showed the two astronauts smiling and relaxing on sofas at a town near their landing site as they underwent blood pressure and cardiac tests.

Footage from inside the Soyuz had shown the two men being shaken around at the moment the failure occurred, with their arms and legs flailing.

Ovchinin, the Russian cosmonaut, can be heard saying: “That was a quick flight.”

International Space Station (ISS) crew members astronaut Nick Hague of the U.S. and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Russia board the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft for the launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan October 11, 2018. Yuri Kochetkov/Pool via REUTERS

International Space Station (ISS) crew members astronaut Nick Hague of the U.S. and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Russia board the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft for the launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan October 11, 2018. Yuri Kochetkov/Pool via REUTERS

U.S. SPACE PLANS

For now, the United States relies on Moscow to carry its astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) which was launched 20 years ago. NASA tentatively plans to send its first crew to the ISS using a SpaceX craft instead of a Soyuz next April.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the most important thing was that the two men were alive.

The ISS, launched in 1998, is a habitable artificial satellite in low Earth orbit which is used to carry out scientific and space-related tests.

It can hold a crew of up to six people and at present has three people aboard, two men — a German and a Russian – as well as one female U.S. astronaut.

“Rescue services have been working since the first second of the accident,” Rogozin wrote on Twitter. “The emergency rescue systems of the MS-Soyuz spacecraft worked smoothly. The crew has been saved.”

A Russian space industry source was cited by the Interfax news agency as saying that there was enough food onboard the ISS to last until April of next year.

The next re-supply run was meant to happen on Oct. 31, the source was quoted as saying, but that was now in doubt since the Progress supply ship was propelled by the same kind of rocket used in Thursday’s incident.

Questions are now likely to be asked about how efficiently Russia’s space program is running.

In August, a hole appeared in a Soyuz capsule already docked to the ISS which caused a brief loss of air pressure and had to be patched. Rogozin has said it could have been “sabotage”.

And in November last year, Roscosmos lost contact with a newly-launched weather satellite – the Meteor-M – after it blasted off from Russia’s new Vostochny cosmodrome in the Far East.

Rogozin said at the time that the launch of the 2.6 billion-rouble ($39.02 million) satellite had been due to an embarrassing programming error.

($1 = 66.6315 roubles)

(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov in Kazakhstan and by Christian Lowe, Tom Balmforth, Polina Nikolskaya, Polina Ivanova, Polina Devitt in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Investigators identify Russian military unit in downing of flight MH17

Dutch police officer Wilbert Paulissen, head of the National Crime Squad, is pictured next to a damaged missile as he presents interim results in the ongoing investigation of the 2014 MH17 crash that killed 298 people over eastern Ukraine, during a news conference by members of the Joint Investigation Team, comprising the authorities from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, in Bunnik, Netherlands, May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

By Anthony Deutsch

BUNNIK, Netherlands (Reuters) – Dutch prosecutors identified a Russian military unit on Thursday as the source of the missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 296 people on board.

The airliner flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was hit by a Russian-made “Buk” anti-aircraft missile on July 17, 2014 over territory held by pro-Russian separatists. There were no survivors. Two thirds of those killed were Dutch.

“The Buk that was used came from the Russian army, the 53rd brigade,” Chief Dutch Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke told Reuters. “We know that was used, but the people in charge of this Buk, we don’t know.”

Investigators appealed to the public to come forward and help identify members of the crew who operated the missile and determine how high up the chain of command the order originated.

FILE PHOTO: The reconstructed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 which crashed over Ukraine in July 2014 is seen in Gilze Rijen, Netherlands, October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Michael Kooren/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: The reconstructed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 which crashed over Ukraine in July 2014 is seen in Gilze Rijen, Netherlands, October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Michael Kooren/File Photo

“The Russian Federation didn’t help us in providing us the information we brought out into the open today,” Westerbeke said. “They didn’t give us this information, although a Buk from their military forces was used.”

Russia repeated on Thursday that it had nothing to do with the incident.

“Not a single air defense missile launcher of the Russian Armed Forces has ever crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border,” Russia’s TASS news agency quoted the Defense Ministry as saying in a statement.

Prosecutors showed photos and videos of a truck convoy carrying the system as it crossed the border from Russia to Ukraine. It crossed back several days later with one missile missing. The vehicles had serial numbers and other markings that were unique to the 53rd brigade, an anti-aircraft unit based in the western Russian city of Kursk, they said.

In the interim update on their investigation, prosecutors said they had trimmed their list of possible suspects from more than a hundred to several dozen.

Westerbeke said investigators were not yet ready to identify individual suspects publicly or to issue indictments, but that when they do he expects cooperation, or a firm international political response.

Numbers are seen on a damaged missile displayed during a news conference by members of the Joint Investigation Team, comprising the authorities from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine who present interim results in the ongoing investigation of the 2014 MH17 crash that killed 298 people over eastern Ukraine, in Bunnik, Netherlands, May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Numbers are seen on a damaged missile displayed during a news conference by members of the Joint Investigation Team, comprising the authorities from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine who present interim results in the ongoing investigation of the 2014 MH17 crash that killed 298 people over eastern Ukraine, in Bunnik, Netherlands, May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

HOLD RUSSIA ACCOUNTABLE

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte cut short a trip to India to return in time for a cabinet meeting on Friday to discuss the latest findings in the inquiry.

The MH17 Disaster Foundation representing families of the victims demanded that the Dutch government take legal action to hold the Russian state accountable.

“It must go beyond legal exploration after this,” board member Piet Ploeg was quoted by the NOS broadcaster as saying.

A Joint Investigation Team, drawn from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, is gathering evidence for a criminal prosecution in the downing of the plane.

Ukrainian Army General Vasyl Hrytsak, a member of the investigation team, told Reuters the next crucial step would be to pinpoint who issued the orders to move the missile system.

The Dutch Safety Board concluded in an October 2015 report that the Boeing 777 was struck by a Russian-made Buk missile.

(Additional reporting by Bart Meijer and Toby Sterling in Amsterdam and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Graff)

Exclusive: Russian civilians helping Assad use military base back home – witnesses

A still image from a video footage taken on April 6, 2018 shows a bus transferring Russian private military contractors leaving an airport outside Rostov-on-Don, Russia. REUTERS/Stringe

By Maria Tsvetkova and Anton Zverev

MOLKINO, Russia (Reuters) – The Kremlin says it has nothing to do with Russian civilians fighting in Syria but on three recent occasions groups of men flying in from Damascus headed straight to a defense ministry base in Molkino, Reuters reporters witnessed.

Molkino in southwestern Russia is where the Russian 10th Special Forces Brigade is based, according to information on the Kremlin website.

The destination of the Russians arriving from Syria provides rare evidence of a covert Russian mission in Syria beyond the air strikes, training of Syrian forces and small numbers of special forces troops acknowledged by Moscow.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Feb. 14 Russians may be in Syria but “they are not part of the armed forces of the Russian Federation”. He referred Reuters to the defense ministry when asked why civilians fighting in Syria return to a military base. The ministry did not immediately respond.

A duty officer at the 10th special forces brigade, asked why non-military people were entering the military base, said: “Nobody enters it, as far as I am aware … You’ve seen them, okay. But you should not believe everything … You can maybe. But how can we comment on what other organizations do?”

More than 2,000 Russian contractors are fighting to help Syrian forces recapture land from their opponents, several sources, including one contractor, have said.

The contractors are transferred by Syrian airline Cham Wings, the sources said.

Reuters reporters saw a Syrian Cham Wings charter flight from Damascus land at the civilian airport in Rostov-on-Don on April 17 and watched groups of men leave the terminal through an exit separate from the one used by ordinary passengers.

They boarded three buses, which took them to an area mainly used by airport staff. A luggage carrier brought numerous oversized bags and the men, dressed in civilian clothes, got off the buses, loaded the bags and got back on.

The three buses then left the airport in convoy and headed south; two made stops near cafes along the way and one on the roadside. All three reached the village of Molkino, 350 km (220 miles) south, shortly before midnight.

In the village, each bus paused for a minute or two at a checkpoint manned by at least two servicemen, before driving on. About 15-20 minutes later the buses drove back through the checkpoint empty. Publicly available satellite maps show the road leads to the military facility.

A still image from a video footage taken on April 6, 2018 shows a bus transferring Russian private military contractors passing a checkpoint before entering the Defence Ministry base in Molkino near Krasnodar, Russia. REUTERS/Stringer

A still image from a video footage taken on April 6, 2018 shows a bus transferring Russian private military contractors passing a checkpoint before entering the Defence Ministry base in Molkino near Krasnodar, Russia. REUTERS/Stringer

EXCURSION?

The buses took men along the same route from the airport to Molkino on Mar. 25 and Apr. 6, a Reuters reporter saw.

Several relatives, friends and recruiters of fighters told Reuters Russian private contractors have had a training camp in Molkino since the time they fought in eastern Ukraine alongside pro-Russian separatists.

The military facility is known for its recently renovated firing range, where the military trains for counter terrorist operations, tank battles and sniper shooting, the Russian defense ministry website says.

Reuters contacted the owners of some of the buses transporting the groups of men from the airport. They said they rent out their buses but declined to say who to: one said a trip to Molkino could have been an excursion.

One of the buses, a white 33-year-old Neoplan with a slogan of a tourist company on its boards, was imported into Russia in 2007 and initially registered in the town of Pechory. Dmitry Utkin, identified by three sources as leader of the contractors, previously commanded a special forces unit based in Pechory.

Graphic https://tmsnrt.rs/2K5I3MR

(Writing by Maria Tsvetkova; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Poisoned Russian agent Sergei Skripal is getting better fast, hospital says

Sergei Skripal, a former colonel of Russia's GRU military intelligence service, looks on inside the defendants' cage as he attends a hearing at the Moscow military district court, Russia August 9, 2006. Kommersant/Yuri Senatorov via REUTERS

By Alistair Smout and Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal is no longer in a critical condition and his health is improving rapidly more than a month after he was poisoned with a nerve agent in England, the British hospital treating him said on Friday.

Skripal, 66, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of spies to Britain’s foreign spy service, and his daughter Yulia were found slumped unconscious on a public bench in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

Britain blamed Russia for the poisoning, the first known offensive use of such a nerve agent on European soil since World War Two. Moscow denied any involvement and suggested that Britain had carried out the attack to stoke anti-Russian hysteria.

“He is responding well to treatment, improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition,” Christine Blanshard, Medical Director at Salisbury District Hospital, said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the Skripals were poisoned with Novichok, a deadly group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s.

Russia has said it does not have such nerve agents and President Vladimir Putin said it is nonsense to think that Moscow would have poisoned Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter.

A British judge said last month, nearly three weeks after the attack, that it might have left them with compromised mental capacity and that it was unclear whether they would recover.

The attack prompted the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War as allies in Europe and the United States sided with May’s view that Moscow was either responsible or had lost control of the nerve agent.

But Moscow has hit back by expelling Western diplomats, questioning how Britain knows that Russia was responsible and offering its rival interpretations, including that it amounted to a plot by British secret services.

Both Moscow and London have accused each other of trying to deceive the world with an array of claims, counter-claims and threats.

“PLAYING WITH FIRE”

At a session of the executive of the global chemical weapons watchdog this week, Russia called for a joint inquiry into the poisoning of the Skripals, but lost a vote on the motion.

At a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday, Russia warned Britain that “you’re playing with fire and you’ll be sorry” over its accusations.

Given the twists and turns in the affair, British and Russian diplomats have variously claimed the mystery to be worthy of Sherlock Holmes or of an Agatha Christie whodunit.

In an exchange at the United Nations, the ambassadors of Britain and Russia quoted extracts from “Alice in Wonderland” at each other.

The hospital in Salisbury said it was providing the medical update in response to “intense media coverage yesterday.”

Russian state television reported that Yulia had phoned her cousin in Russia and told her that she and her father were both recovering and that she expected to leave hospital soon.

Yulia’s health has improved rapidly. On Thursday, she issued a statement through British police to thank hospital staff and people who came to her help when “when my father and I were incapacitated”.

Sergei Skripal, who was recruited by Britain’s MI6, was arrested for treason in Moscow in 2004. He ended up in Britain after being swapped in 2010 for Russian spies caught in the United States.

Since emerging from the John le Carre world of high espionage and betrayal, Skripal lived modestly in Salisbury and kept out of the spotlight until he was found poisoned.

British police believe a nerve agent was left on the front door of his home. Skripal’s cat was put down by British authorities. His guinea pigs were discovered dead.

“When a vet was able to access the property, two guinea pigs had sadly died,” a British government spokeswoman said.

“A cat was also found in a distressed state and a decision was taken by a veterinary surgeon to euthanise the animal to alleviate its suffering,” the spokeswoman said.

(Editing by Richard Balmforth)

U.N.’s rights boss warns Russia over Syria air strikes

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein attends the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, September 13, 2016.

By Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein warned Russia on Tuesday over the use of incendiary weapons in Syria’s besieged enclave of eastern Aleppo, and said crimes by one side did not justify illegal acts by the other.

Zeid said that the situation in Aleppo demanded bold new initiatives “including proposals to limit the use of the veto by the permanent members of the Security Council”, which would enable the U.N. body to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“Such a referral would be more than justified given the rampant and deeply shocking impunity that has characterized the conflict and the magnitude of the crimes that have been committed, some of which may indeed amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Zeid said in a statement.

Syria’s government and its allies had undertaken a “pattern of attacks” against targets with special protection under international humanitarian law, including medical units, aid workers and water-pumping stations, he said.

Russia is a key player in the Syrian civil war by virtue of its military support for President Bashar al-Assad and its role as one of five veto-holding powers on the Security Council.

The use of indiscriminate weapons such as incendiary weapons in heavily populated areas was of particularly grave concern, Zeid said, drawing a parallel with the battles of Warsaw, Stalingrad and Dresden during World War Two.

There is no statute of limitations on international crimes, his spokesman Rupert Colville said.

“I remind all State parties to Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, including the Russian Federation, that they are strictly prohibited from using incendiary weapons in airstrikes on heavily populated areas, and that the use of such weapons by ground forces is severely restricted,” Zeid said.

The rebels’ use of inaccurate “hell-fire cannons”, homemade mortars that fire gas cylinders packed with explosives and shrapnel, was also totally unacceptable, he said.

Designating the enemy as a “terrorist organization” was not an excuse to ignore the laws of war, Zeid said.

World Health Organization spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said that between Sept. 23 and Oct. 2, 342 people had been killed in eastern Aleppo, including 106 children, and 1,129 injured, including 261 children.

Those figures were based on reports from functioning health centers and the true figures were probably much higher, she said.

“As of yesterday, we had only six partially functioning hospitals that are in service, only one hospital that offers trauma services,” Chaib told the briefing.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)