AMMAN: Reported Russian airstrikes knocked three hospitals in northern Syria out of service on Monday, depriving more than 5,000 patients a month of care ahead of the deadline for a “cessation of hostilities” deal worked out between major powers at last week’s annual Munich Security.
The ceasefire, notably, excludes the Islamic State in addition to Jabhat a-Nusra, one of the lead factions in the Victory Army that controls nearly all of Idlib province.
Two hospitals, one belonging to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), were bombed in Idlib province on Monday. A third, a women and children’s hospital in the city of Azaz near the Turkish border, was also hit.
The National Hospital, also in Maarat al-Nuaman, was bombed shortly after the strikes on the MSF facility, Amjed al-Idlibi, a first responder with the Civil Defense who worked to extract the dead and wounded, told Syria Direct Tuesday.
“Both hospitals were hit directly…the planes returned several times to conduct air raids, with roughly 10 minutes between each raid,” said al-Idlibi. He said that the planes were Russian.
Moscow denied hitting the three hospitals. “Once again, we categorically dismiss these statements and consider them to be unacceptable,” Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Tuesday in Moscow.
MSF’s France president Mego Terzian told a wire agency Monday he believed either Syrian or Russian planes carried out the strike on the hospital in Maarat a-Nuaman. Seven people, including five patients, were confirmed killed in the attack. Eight missing staff members are presumed dead, according to a Monday press release by MSF.
The MSF hospital’s destruction leaves 40,000 residents “without access to medical services in an active zone of conflict,” MSF Head of Mission Massimiliano Rebaudengo was quoted as saying in the statement.
In northern Aleppo province, the only hospital in Azaz was targeted by another air raid Monday.
The strike took place at 8am, “before large numbers of patients had gathered,” Zakariya Ibrahim, an anesthesiologist at the hospital, told Syria Direct Monday.
“If it had happened later, it would have been a humanitarian disaster,” the doctor said, adding that the Azaz women and children’s hospital treated 4,000 patients a month, said Ibrahim.
Monday’s targeting of hospitals comes against the backdrop of a “cessation of hostilities” announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday, February 12. Major world powers, including the US and Russia, agreed to the deal at the annual Munich Security conference last week. The cessation is supposed to take effect within a week of its announcement.
Russia has announced it will continue to strike the Islamic State and Jabhat a-Nusra positions after the cessation goes into effect. Russia has previously conflated various rebel groups, including FSA-affiliated ones in northern Syria, with Nusra and IS.