Syrian hospitals targeted 400 times in air strikes

Syrian hospitals targeted more than 400 times in Russian and regime bombing during war
4 min read
09 March, 2021
Syrian hospitals in opposition areas have been a regular target in the war.
Busra Hospital in Daraa was one of hundreds of hospitals hit in bombing [Getty]
Hospitals in Syria have been targeted more than 400 times in a devastating campaign by Assad regime and Russian forces to decimate healthcare facilities in opposition areas, monitors have said.

The Berlin-based Syrian Archive provided data to DW showing that around 90 percent of the hundreds of strikes on healthcare facilities in opposition areas were deliberate.

The report stated that Russian and Syrian regime forces were the "predominant perpetrators" of the attacks, using missiles, barrel bombs, and shelling to destroy healthcare facilities in Idlib province and other opposition territories.

The widespread targeting of hospitals and campaign appear to be part of a systematic campaign to decimate healthcare infrastructure in rebel areas, the Syrian Archive said.

"This database is really important to make sure that we are showing the intentionality, impact and strategy of attacks against medical facilities," Hadi al Khatib, founder and director of the Syrian Archive, told DW.

"The majority of these attacks and the majority of this pattern was between the Syrian and Russian forces."

Around 216 of the attacks on hospitals were secondary - or double tap - strikes, taking place around a minute after the initial bombing of the site when emergency workers are engaged in search-and-rescue operations.

Such strikes are considered war crimes under international law, as is the targeting of civilian infrastructure such as hospitals.

Libby McAvoy, a legal fellow involved in compiling the data, said the project was conducted with international law in mind and could be used to hold the perpetrators to account.

She said the data will compliment video evidence of the strikes on healthcare facilities.

"Video can only ever claim to be one piece of the puzzle," McAvoy told DW. "But because Syria is so well documented, it is an important piece of the puzzle."
It is hoped that the evidence could act as a deterrant to prevent further strikes on healthcare facilities in Idlib.

"Whatever happens to Idlib in the future, medical facilities will be the first targets," Al-Khatib told the broadcaster.

"And we would like to be able to show that in the hope of deterring it in the future."

It comes after the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and its partners published a report last week regarding attacks on healthcare facilities in Syria.

Eighty-one percent of health workers questioned for the report said they had a coworker or patient injured or killed from strikes on healthcare facilities.

More than three-quarters of surveyed workers had witnessed an everage of four attacks on healthcare facilities with some witnessing as many as 20 during the ten-year war.

The systematic targeting of healthcare facilities had made it more difficult for doctors and nurses to respond to the Covid-19 epidemic that is currently spreading through Syria.

"I had a friend who wanted to go to the hospital for treatment, and took her children with her, and then the hospital was bombed and my friend was killed, along with one of her children. She was pregnant," said Muna, a pyschological support worker, interviewed for the report.

"It also led to the complete destruction of the neonatal intensive care unit. The incubators were destroyed, even the children inside the incubators."

The deliberate targeting of hospitals has also led to an exodus of doctors and nurses from Syria with two in three healthcare workers leaving the country due to fears over their safety.

It has left Syria with just one doctor for every 10,000 civilians who are working as many as 80 hours a week to make up for the shortfall in medical staff.

"As we mark 10 years of conflict, Syria has become the poster child for the 'Age of Impunity', where the rules of war are ignored, and attacks on healthcare in violation of international law continue without consequence," said David Milliband, CEO of the IRC.

"COVID cases climbed to an alarming 41,406 across Syria in January this year - a more than five-fold increase in the last three months alone - and attacks on healthcare have severely compromised the ability of the healthcare system to respond to the pandemic.

"Despite growing evidence and international recognition of the widespread - and sometimes deliberate - nature of these attacks, action by the international community to hold those responsible to account has been absent."

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