Geneva (AFP) - The Syrian government intentionally bombed the Ain al-Fijeh spring in December, leaving more than five million people in Damascus without access to water, a UN probe said Tuesday, branding the strike a "war crime".
"The information examined by the Commission confirms that the bombing of (the Ain al-Fijeh) spring was carried out by the Syrian Air Force," the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in a report.
The report, which was presented to the UN Human Rights Council Tuesday, dismissed regime allegations that rebels had contaminated the water.
Around 5.5 million people in Damascus and its suburbs were cut off from water when fighting intensified in Wadi Barada near the Syrian capital in late December.
The regime accused the rebels of poisoning water resources and cutting off the mains, while the armed opposition said regime bombardment had destroyed the infrastructure.
The UN commission, which has never been granted access to Syria and bases its reports on interviews and documents, said it had found no "indications that the water was contaminated" before the spring was bombed on December 23.
"On the contrary, interviewees say that Wadi Barada residents used water up until the bombing of 23 December and no one experienced any symptoms of contamination," the report said.
Following the bombing, the water was contaminated after shrapnel damaged fuel and chlorine storage facilities, it said.
The bombing itself indicated that the "spring was purposely targeted," said the commission, headed by Brazilian academic Paul Sergio Pinheiro.
"While the presence of armed group fighters at (the Ain al-Fijeh) spring constituted a military target, ... the damage caused ... was grossly disproportionate to the military advantage anticipated or achieved," it said.
- War crime -
"The attack amounts to the war crime of attacking objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population, and further violated the principle of proportionality in attacks," the report concluded.
At the end of January, Syria's army regained control of Wadi Barada, which rebels first seized in 2012.
Syria's representative to the rights council, Hussam Aala Edin, on Tuesday reiterated accusations that the commission was politicised, and slammed its "amateurish approach" and "naive conclusions".
More than 320,000 people have been killed and millions forced to flee their homes since Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011, as protests against President Bashar al-Assad morphed into war following a government crackdown.
Tuesday's report also detailed a range of other war crimes committed in Syria since last July, including a series of attacks last October on schools in Haas, in Idlib province, that killed 36 civilians, 21 of them children.
Two weeks ago, the commission also released a report on the regime's five-month siege of eastern Aleppo, describing war crimes by all sides, including chemical weapons attacks, civilian executions and forced displacements following the rebel defeat.
"The government's siege tactics proved repulsively successful: eastern Aleppo is reduced to rubble, while survivors have been forced to leave their homes and face an uncertain future elsewhere," Pinheiro told the council.
Earlier Tuesday, UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein described the Syrian conflict as an "immense tidal wave of bloodshed and atrocity," and "the worst man-made disaster the world has seen since World War II".