February 15, 2016; The Guardian
Another two hospitals affiliated with Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) were bombed on Monday as part of a series of airstrikes the organization believes were orchestrated either by the Russian government or Syrian government troops in the ongoing battle for control with opposition groups. Along with the civilian hospitals, a Syrian school was hit in a separate strike. These airstrikes will join the several others on volunteer-run hospitals in the last few months that have fatally wounded or seriously injured volunteers from the charity and patients at the clinics.
Three airstrikes hit two separate areas in northern Syria, leaving a trail of the devastation: One strike hit an MSF clinic in the town of Maarat al-Nu’man in the province of Idlib, a second bombing struck a children’s hospital in the rebel-held town of Azaz near the Turkish border, and a third strike hit a school in the village of Kaljibrin. According to the medical charity, the clinic in Maarat al-Nu’man was struck four times in at least two attacks, leaving as few as seven and as many as fifteen staff members dead. The airstrike in Azaz reportedly killed five people, including children and a pregnant woman. As with previous airstrikes, MSF stated that these airstrikes were deliberate and targeted bombings.
“This appears to be a deliberate attack on a health structure, and we condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms,” said Massimiliano Rebaudengo, MSF’s mission chief. “The destruction of the hospital leaves the local population of around 40,000 people without access to medical services in an active zone of conflict.”
Amnesty International released a similar statement alleging the attacks were deliberate: “Attacks on at least two medical facilities in Syria today are just the latest of scores of apparently deliberate attacks on hospitals, clinics and medical personnel being committed in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”
Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Program Director, went on to say, “Russian and Syrian forces know full well that deliberate attacks on medical facilities are war crimes. All parties to the conflict must cease such horrific attacks, stop destroying medical facilities and allow medical workers to carry out their life-saving work without fear of being killed or injured in the line of duty.”
While MSF did not specify the culprit of the attack, as NPQ has reported, several countries have been called out for conducting or supporting airstrikes on MSF hospitals, including the United States and Great Britain. Readers may remember the United States’ accidental airstrike that left 42 dead at a hospital in Afghanistan.
While Russia has been an important ally to Syria’s President Assad for the past five years, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev vehemently denied that Russian airstrikes had targeted civilian hospitals and schools. Yet, as noted by the Guardian, Russia has been credited for seven airstrikes on clinics last October when it rejoined the effort to aid government troops. Russia has resumed airstrikes in Northern Latakia despite pleas from advocates and President Barack Obama to halt the bombings.
Not only are these areas of Syria without proper medical facilities, NPQ has already reported on the widespread starvation and malnutrition gripping parts of Syria, particularly in rebel-held territories.
“Every day, hundreds of Syrians die from airstrikes and artillery bombardment, poison gas, cluster bombs, torture, starvation, cold and drowning,” said Riad Hijab, the head of the opposition group’s negotiations committee. “The Syrian people continue to live in terror and in utter despair after the international community failed to prevent even the gravest violations committed against them.”—Shafaq Hasan