Doctors Without Borders says one of its hospitals was destroyed while three other medical facilities were damaged in northern Syria by what rebels battling the Assad government claim were targeted airstrikes by the regime.
Medics and witnesses say at least 10 people were killed at a maternity and pediatric clinic hit by missiles and rockets in the border town of Azaz.
The charity group also said its 30-bed hospital was destroyed and seven people killed at Maarat al-Numan in Idlib province. The group known by its French initials, MSF, said the hospital was hit four times in two attacks, leaving at least eight staff members missing.
“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 head of mission.
“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,” Massimiliano said.
Other hospitals targeted
According to political activists, warplanes also targeted the hospitals in Maret al-Noman and Orem Al-Kubra. As a precaution, staff shuttered the National Hospital Maret al-Noman and a clinic at Mare’.
Dr. Wasel al-Jurk told VOA by phone, “We closed because we feared we would be hit, too,” he said. “We evacuated the patients as best we could,” he added.
The strikes come days after Russia and other world powers agreed to a limited cessation of hostilities in Syria, but hopes are dimming there will be any decrease in violence. Almost five years of civil war in Syria have led to the deaths of upwards of 250,000 people and displaced more than 11 million.
While it has not been confirmed who carried out these latest attacks, Mego Terzian, president of MSF France, said the Maarat al-Numan strikes were carried out by forces “loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.” He told Reuters of the eight MSF personnel who are missing, “We don’t know if they are alive.”
And the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in Syria, said the airstrikes were believed to have been carried out by Russian jets.
Fear of new offensive
Rebel commanders fear the airstrikes targeting hospitals in Idlib heralds the start of an offensive there. “The pattern has been for hospitals and civilian structures to be struck first,” said Mohammed Adeeb of the Shamiya Front, a rebel militia alliance.
The purpose is to sow panic, encourage civilian flight and lower the morale of fighters, who start focusing on how to get their families to safety, he argues.
In a 2015 report, the Syrian American Medical Society, a nonprofit relief organization, said, “In Syria, civilians as well as healthcare personnel, medical facilities, and ambulances are deliberately and routinely targeted as part of the military strategy of the Syrian government.
In an attempt to provide ongoing care to the injured, health workers have opened makeshift field hospitals in homes, factories, and farms, often moving from place to place as they suffer damage or destruction.”
Soon after the airstrikes on the pediatric hospital in Azaz, there were a steady stream of ambulances transporting the wounded across the border with Turkey to the hospital at Kilis. As the wounded were carried out, Syrian refugees already in Turkey and camera crews crowded around.
And there was angry talk from some of the refugees and Syrian activists about the Assad regime and Russians.
“The Americans and other big powers are also responsible for this, this killing of Syrians, these massacres,” said one activist. “All of this is being done with the knowledge of other countries,” he added.
Wounded transported to Kilis, Turkey
The Kilis hospital admitted 36 of the wounded from Syria, three died.
Another airstrike in the northern Aleppo countryside left a school sheltering Syrians displaced from other nearby towns seriously damaged with an unknown loss of life, according to Mazin Ibrahim, a relief worker.
Speaking with VOA outside Kilis hospital, he said his staff had told him the Shahid Ismail school was hit Monday in a missile strike, where many displaced families were seeking sanctuary from the Russian-backed offensive sweeping through the northern countryside of Aleppo.
“They say there are many dead but we don’t know how many. There are people buried in the rubble and we can’t get to them,” he added.