Airstrikes take out 3 north Syrian hospitals in less than 24 hours: ‘A systematic tactic of destroying medical infrastructure’

AMMAN: More than a dozen reported Russian airstrikes destroyed three hospitals across northwestern Syria in less than 24 hours, as local administrators told Syria Direct on Thursday that “there is no such thing as a safe hospital.”

The attacks killed at least seven Syrians, the latest in a month-long Russian and regime assault on dozens of hospitals, clinics and ad hoc medical points across rebel-held Idlib and Hama provinces, the last major bastion of rebel territory.

“Warplanes are carrying out a systematic tactic of destroying medical infrastructure by targeting the greatest possible number of hospitals and medical centers in rebel-held areas,” Dr. Mustafa al-Aido, deputy director of the Idlib Health Directorate, told Syria Direct on Thursday.

The first attack on Thursday took place around 5:00am when a purportedly Russian warplane fired four vacuum missiles on the Deir Sharqi University Hospital 35km south of the provincial capital. A previous attack in late February damaged the facility, but the Civil Defense says that this time it is destroyed, the result of a direct hit.

Pro-opposition video footage shows crater holes in the roof of the facility with damaged medical equipment and debris strewn throughout the hospital. The attack killed three patients.

During the Civil Defense’s rescue operations, a warplane reportedly circled back and unleashed another airstrike on the facility, characteristic of a “double tap” attack intended to maximize casualties.

 Aftermath of Sunday’s airstrike on the Deir Sharqi University Hospital. Photo courtesy of Omar Haj Kadour / AFP

“We were evacuating the injured from the hospital when we were informed that there was a warplane heading straight towards it,” Abdul Sittar, the head of the Civil Defense team responding to the University Hospital bombing, told Syria Direct on Thursday. “As we were in the middle of our work, we were hit with another airstrike, but thank God no one was injured that time.”

Approximately two hours later and 13km west, another warplane fired a series of vacuum missiles on a privately owned medical center.

A second round of airstrikes on the same facility killed four members of the medical staff and left Civil Defense personnel with minor injuries, Abu Nasser, a member of the local Civil Defense team that responded to the scene, told Syria Direct on Thursday.

“The attack destroyed our fire truck, and we waited for 45 minutes for another one to show up,” the first responder said. “All the while, we watched the fire grow and engulf all of the ambulances at the center.”

A third attack occurred late Wednesday afternoon in the northern Hama city of al-Lataminah. The missile reportedly penetrated 10 meters of stone, crippling the heavily fortified hospital, built into the side of a foothill. A suspected chlorine gas attack killed three people and injured dozens last month at the same facility.

Neither Syrian nor Russian state media commented on the wave of hospital attacks.

 Airstrikes destroy southern Idlib’s Shamna Medical Center on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Shamna News.

As strike after strike destroys northern Syria’s medical infrastructure, hospital personnel describe a Sisyphean task of constant rebuilding.

“We’re working on a project to construct 10 hospitals across Idlib province, but I wonder if there’s any point when [the Russians and the regime] keep using such intense and destructive weaponry,” Dr. al-Aido of the Idlib Health Directorate told Syria Direct.

Russian and regime airstrikes have damaged or destroyed at least 32 medical facilities in the month of April alone across rebel-held territory in Syria, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces announced on Tuesday. In opposition-controlled Idlib and Hama provinces, the Assad regime and its allies have attacked more than 18 major hospitals, field hospitals, specialized clinics and medical warehouses since February 1, Syria Direct reported.   

Two senior United Nations humanitarian officials strongly condemned “the ongoing damage and destruction of medical facilities in northern Syria,” in a joint statement posted online on Wednesday.

“It is completely unacceptable that facilities and people who are trying to save lives are being bombed,” said Kevin Kennedy, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis.

The joint statement follows yet another attack on a northern Idlib medical facility earlier this week, an airstrike on the Shahid Wasim Husseini Hospital in Kafr Takharim, 22km northwest of Idlib city.

Already this year, Syrian, Russian and United States-led coalition airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians across Idlib and Hama provinces. The increased bombings in the area come at a time when tens of thousands of rebel fighters and civilians are arriving to Idlib province, the result of a series of rebel surrenders and subsequent mass evacuation deals around the country.

Osama Abu Zeid

Osama Abu Zeid is a native of Homs, where he served as a media activist and founding member of the Homs Revolutionary Council after the Syrian uprising began in 2011.

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Justin Schuster

Justin Schuster graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Affairs and Modern Middle Eastern Studies. He was a 2015-2016 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. Justin worked as a reporter and translator with Syria Direct before serving as the Managing Director.