Under attack: Dozens of hospitals targeted during latest phase of Syria’s bloody war

Author : Mircea Birca | Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Posted in category Eurasia
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At least 67 attacks have taken place against hospitals, health facilities and health workers in Syria’s northwest since April last year, Sky News analysis has shown.

Using a combination of information from non-profit organisations, activists and the World Health Organisation, we have identified dozens of locations that have been hit where patients were treated or healthcare staff were working.

WHO says there have been 83 attacks on healthcare in Syria as a whole in the same period, but does not make the locations public.

Many of the sites we have identified are in villages in Idlib province that have been on the frontline as Syria’s President Bashar al Assad has fought to reclaim territory he lost during the nine-year civil war.

Idlib is the last bastion of jihadist rebels, many of whom are allied to al Qaeda.

But it has also become a haven for people fleeing the fighting in other parts of Syria, who have seen the destruction the Assad regime has waged and are terrified of being killed or persecuted.

Last spring, a number of countries sought to re-establish relations with Syria during a lull in the war, prompting some to ponder whether the war was over.

Syria and its allies Russia and Iran had taken back territory from rebels in the south and west and had reached an impasse with the Kurds in the north.

Meanwhile, Western forces – together with the Kurds – had pushed Islamic State into a tiny pocket of land in the east.

But in April, Assad ramped up his attacks on those rebels who had escaped to Idlib.

Many were jihadists who had been fighting Assad’s forces as well as each other, some allied to al Qaeda.

Idlib, meanwhile, had become filled with Syria’s internally displaced people (IDPs), many of whom had fled from Aleppo during and after Assad’s assault on the east of the city in December 2016.

As the pro-Assad forces pushed into Idlib, those displaced populations were caught in the crossfire.

Activists and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have accused Assad and the air forces of his Russian allies of indiscriminately attacking civilians.

Groups such as the Syrian Network for Human Rights say hospitals have been hit by Russian weaponry.

In the early phase of the re-intensification, in May, 18 hospitals in the northwest were hit within the space of two weeks.

Sky News visited the site of one hospital attack in August – in Talmenes – where our Special Correspondent Alex Crawford came across what she believed was a war crime.

The Rahmah Hospital was hit four times by warplanes allied to the Syrian government.

Russian planes are believed to be the only air force operating in Syria, but the country denies any attacks on civilians.

A significant swathe of territory was recaptured during the period from April to October, but in that month, the conflict was ramped up even further.

As the world was distracted by President Donald Trump’s decision to remove US troops from northeastern Syria, and by Turkey launching an invasion to set up a “safe zone” in territory formerly held by the Kurds, the war in Idlib intensified.

In the following months, up until the present day, pro-Assad forces captured dozens more villages, pushing the rebels back into a smaller and smaller area.

As the frontline has moved, the IDPs have had an increasingly limited space to seek sanctuary.

Within days of the re-intensification last April, people started to move.

In the last few months, according to the UN, some 800,000 people have been forced to leave their homes or the tent camps where they thought they were safe.

There are now thousands of people streaming across northwestern Syria desperate to find somewhere they can shelter.

Reports have emerged of huge lines of people trudging along Idlib’s arterial roads, some on foot, others in vehicles laden with belongings.

So far, they have been unable to leave Syria as Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has kept the border between the two countries closed to refugees.

Turkey is already home to 3.6 million Syrian refugees, who fled during earlier stages of the war.

The fear some Western observers have is that Erdogan will open the borders but not allow the new refugees to stay, leaving them no choice but to press on to Europe – prompting a repeat of the migration crisis that brought political paralysis in the EU in 2015 and left thousands dead in the waters of the eastern Aegean.

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