Adding assault to injury: Syria, Russia 'deliberately targeted ambulances'

Adding assault to injury: Syria and Russia 'deliberately targeted ambulances'

3 min read
28 November, 2018
The intentional, repeated regime attacks on ambulances made Syria "the most dangerous place in the world to be a healthcare provider".
An ambulance becomes collaterel damage after a strike on al-Tah Hospital in Idlib [Getty]
The Syrian regime and its Russian ally have "weaponised healthcare" in the country's eight-year conflict, deliberately and repeatedly targeting ambulances, health workers and facilities, researchers have found. 

Hospitals have been bombed, health personnel shot at or kidnapped and ambulances targeted in double-tap air strikes, researchers wrote in BMJ Global Health journal.

Using data collected by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, from January 2016 to December 2017, there were 204 attacks involving 243 individual ambulances.

The Syrian regime was responsible for 60 percent of attacks, while strikes by Russian forces accounted for 29 percent. Almost half of ambulances struck were heavily damaged or put out of service, delaying medical aid or safe evacuation of the wounded.

"This 'weaponisation of healthcare' turns the essential need for healthcare into a war tactic that aims to destabilise, intimidate and demoralise," the journal said.
Attacks on Syria's health infrastructure and workers are "disturbingly commonplace", it added, and in 2017, Syria had the most cases of violence against healthcare than all other countries with ongoing conflict.

Any attack on healthcare facilities, including ambulances, is considered a war crime, but the regime and its allies have shown a "blatant disregard" for international treaties, the journal said.
As the most dangerous place in the world to be a healthcare provider, no cadre of health worker or health facility is immune to the attacks
The most commonly used weaponry by the regime is air-to-surface missiles and shelling, but cluster bombs, banned under the 2018 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which cause widespread destruction, have likely contributed to ambulances becoming collateral damage in an attack.

Researchers also found ambulances attending the scene of an strike were particularly susceptible to "double-tap" attacks, an "insidious" regime strategy, the journal said.

It highlighted a 2016 air strike in East Aleppo which hit a school and residential building near the Medecins Sans Frontieres-supported al-Quds Hospital.

Several minutes after the wounded were taken into the emergency department, the hospital was assaulted by two additional air strikes five minutes apart, killing 55 people and damaging the hospital's ambulances and infrastructure.

The BMJ Global Health Journal called on the UN Security Council and global actors to do more t
o "protect the sacred space of medical neutrality in conflict and bring harsher punishments to perpetrators of violence against healthcare in Syria".

"The intentional, highly destructive and repetitive targeting of ambulances throughout the Syrian conflict has had an immeasurable and devastating impact on the people of Syria and the healthcare system," it said.

"As the most dangerous place in the world to be a healthcare provider, no cadre of health worker or health facility is immune to the attacks."

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