Syria Weekly: Russian airstrikes strike terror in Idlib
The scenes in northern Hama and southern Idlib are reminiscent of previous major regime offensives on rebel areas of Syria, when civil infrastructure was picked off by suspected state-of-the-art Russian fighters jets before brutal ground assaults were rolled out on the towns and villages.
The combination of immense firepower and carpet bombing quickly overwhelmed both rebel fighters and civilian infrastructure in areas such as East Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta and Daraa.
Residents in southern Idlib now fear the same could happen to their towns and villages, even if the regime is not yet in a position to capture the whole of the opposition province.
Jomana Qaddour, co-founder of Syria Relief & Development, said the Pulse of Life Hospital in Hass, southern Idlib, was destroyed on Sunday in a suspected Russian airstrike.
|Residents in southern Idlib now fear the same could happen to their towns and villages|
Another hospital operated by the relief agency was destroyed in a previous military campaign by the regime side, which appeared intent on destroying civil and humanitarian institutions in opposition territories.
"Health centres have been hit and this is what occurred last time there were regime offensives. The regime has made major gains in these territories and this is not a coincidence," Qaddour told The New Arab.
"It is a deliberate attempt to deny internally-displaced persons access to care once the campaigns on areas with large populations begins."
At least 12 hospitals have been destroyed in the most recent wave of bombings, grinding to a halt or hindering the already decimated health services of opposition areas of Hama and Idlib.
|Another hospital operated by the relief agency was destroyed in a previous military campaign by the regime side, which appeared intent on destroying civil and humanitarian institutions in opposition territories|
Other activists and aid workers, who have for months warned that aid cuts to Idlib following the takeover by the hardline rebel coalition Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is having a devastating impact on the humanitarian crisis, are now reporting that their rescue and medical centres are being targeted by the Russian-led air campaign.
Residents and refugees in these areas are being left without healthcare amid a hail of barrel bombs and missiles, while rebel fighters attempt to hold-off a regime advance in the southern sectors of Idlib.
"Health centres are the focal point for civilians in Idlib. People live near them because they can get care when they need it, while hospital employees stay nearby," Qaddour added.
"When you bomb a hospital you automatically impact the lives of the entire village and neighbouring areas."
|When you bomb a hospital you automatically impact the lives of the entire village and neighbouring areas|
Destroying civilian life
Periodic air raids and shelling in Idlib have not only killed more than 350 civilians since February, but also impacted on activists’ efforts to raise funds for desperately needed hospitals that will inevitably be destroyed months later in another regime bombardment.
Qaddour said that the clinic recently destroyed in the airstrike cost $300,000 and the continued targeting of civilian infrastructure could have dire and irreversible consequences for the people of Idlib.
|The clinic recently destroyed in the airstrike cost $300,000 and the continued targeting of civilian infrastructure could have dire and irreversible consequences for the people of Idlib|
"Instead of investing in projects the Syrian communities desperately need – such as education and development projects – we are constantly playing catch up and trying to rebuild what has been destroyed."
Health workers watched the Pulse of Life hospital reduced to rubble in front of their own eyes this week, capturing the devastating scenes on camera. Medical workers at the hospital were given prior notice that an attack on their centre was likely due to the pattern of Russian bombing that day.
|Southern Idlib has been heavily targeted in bombing|
Coordinates of health centres are regularly provided to Moscow by the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) during heavy bombardments of opposition areas in a bid to save them from destruction and to protect civilian lives, only to see them destroyed hours later.
Qaddour said workers provided the UN with the location of the Pulse of Life hospital before it was hit in the suspected Russian bombing.
"We volunteered to give our coordinates because the Russians were hitting facilities either way [but we also] had the option of not confirming where are facilities are," she added.
The fact that the hospital was hit after the coordinates were provided to Russia is further proof that Moscow is deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure in opposition areas, activists say.
"We have seen them continue to hit [hospitals] with even more precision than before. It makes us deeply sceptical of what is being done with the information provided to the OCHA," she added.
"It is our hope that our provision of such information can be used against actors who have been notified of where the humanitarian centres are. They cannot claim ignorance."
|Throughout the Syrian conflict, we have seen the regime and Russia target hospitals, in clear violation of international law|
|Read also: Fighting for freedom: The Syria Campaign|
Laila Kiki, executive director of The Syria Campaign, also confirmed that other hospitals had been targeted in Russian bombing.
"Throughout the Syrian conflict, we have seen the regime and Russia target hospitals, in clear violation of international law," she told The New Arab.
"It is a cruel and brutal tactic to target medical centres, depriving the injured of potentially life-saving treatment. The hospitals that were targeted in the last few days were listed in the United Nations OCHA deconfliction mechanism and yet this was ignored by the regime and Russia."
It is not just clinical, laser-guided munitions that are being used in the airstrikes. The regime have again dropped barrel bombs – oil drums packed with TNT and metal objects that have killed thousands of civilians during the Syria war – on Idlib and Hama, which observers say is the first time they have been used in six months.
Dr Mohammed (real name withheld to protect his identity), who works in southern Idlib, said that nearly 100 people have been killed and many injured in the recent bombing – many with gruesome injuries inflicted by the barrel bombs.
"The medical situation is very bad, especially after the hospitals were targeted by Russia and were put out of service," he told The New Arab.
"Currently we are trying to solve this problem and develop appropriate solutions to improve the medical situation," he said.
Other activists said that the bombing of southern Idlib has been ferocious over the past ten days, but by Thursday the situation was calmer in some parts of Idlib.
Schools and other civilian centres had been closed during the past two weeks of bombing and it is not clear when or if they will be safe to reopen.
Despite this, regime forces have advanced on the ground capturing a number of villages. The offensive has forced thousands more Syrians from their homes where they have been forced to find refuge in areas where the medical situation is similarly dire.
Even if the regime and its allies are not successful on the ground with their offensive, the bombardments appears to have achieved their aim of decimating civilian life in opposition areas and creating terror among the population.
Syria Weekly is a new, regular feature from The New Arab. To get Syria Weekly in your inbox each week, sign up here
Paul McLoughlin is a news editor at The New Arab.
Follow him on Twitter: @PaullMcLoughlin