Medical organizations operating in Syria say hospitals have become regular targets of Russia's airstrike campaign that began in Syria late last month. During the weekend, two hospitals operating in Aleppo reportedly were hit by airstrikes, prompting residents and medical staff to flee the area.
A hospital in al-Hader sustained a direct hit and is no longer in use. Another hospital in el-Eis was nearly-hit, but medical staff decided to evacuate and close the hospital for fear it would be targeted further by regime or Russian forces.
“Right now there is no hospital that covers the southern Aleppo region,” said Zaher Sahloul of the Syrian American Medical Society, who has been critical of Russian involvement in Syria. The hospitals reportedly served an area of some 350,000 people.
— Zaher Sahloul (@sahloul) October 19, 2015
Patients immediately were transferred to a hospital near the border with Turkey. Sahloul said medical sources on the ground told him fighting has intensified between rebels and pro-government forces in the area near the hospitals in recent weeks. The hospital strikes and subsequent closures have furthered fears on the ground of increased fighting, and Sahloul said he expected more residents to flee southern Aleppo in coming months.
“It’s always been difficult, there’s always new challenges that come up related to changing dynamics on the ground. … Right now it’s Russian airstrikes,” Sahloul said.
International Business Times could not independently verify that Russia was responsible for targeting the hospitals during the weekend, but several medical and human rights organizations operating in the region have reported similar attacks in recent weeks. Physicians for Human Rights condemned Russian airstrikes that damaged three medical facilities in Syria in a two-day span the first week in October.
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) October 18, 2015
“Bashar Assad’s forces have been relentlessly attacking Syria’s healthcare system for the past four years and the Russian government is now following in their footsteps,” Widney Brown, director of programs for Physicians for Human Rights, said in a statement. “These attacks are inexcusable. Claiming the fight is against terrorists does not give any government the right to tear up the laws of war, which specifically protect health workers and facilities.”
The international medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders said 10 hospitals were targeted in May and June, including at least one of its major facilities. More than 300 medical facilities have been attacked since the war began in 2011, and some 670 doctors have been killed, according to statistics compiled by Physicians for Human Rights.