Idlib's last operating hospital was hit by Russian airstrikes yesterday, the seventh medical facility to be struck by forces allied to the Syrian regime in the past two weeks, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The strikes in the village of Hass, in the north-western province, is believed to have put the hospital out of operation, with images and videos from the ground showing the complete collapse of the structure, with the walls, ceilings and equipment destroyed.
The hospital was funded by a German NGO according to journalist Julian Ropke, who revealed on Twitter that the hospital was targeted after drones followed ambulances from the site of a previous bombing in order to establish its location.
Just spoke to the head of the German NGO that supplied the hospital in December: "They bombed nearby Maarat Harma. Then drones followed the ambulances to see where the next hospital is. Then they attack the clinic in Haas. This is the peak of war crimes by Assad & Putin." pic.twitter.com/B2MmazeVr5
— Julian Röpcke (@JulianRoepcke) February 15, 2018
The hospital had treated some 4,000 patients a month in the opposition-held province where nearly three million Syrians have taken refuge.
After another strike on a hospital in Idlib last week, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) expressed alarm at the repeated targeting of healthcare centres by the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.
"Civilian areas – specifically healthcare facilities – are being hit in north-western Syria," said Omar Ahmed Abenza, MSF head of mission for north-western Syria. "The strikes, despite their regularity during the seven years long conflict, are currently at an intensity that should be a landmark, another wake-up call," he said.
Idlib and its surrounding areas have been under control of opposition groups since 2015, forming a strategic stronghold for numerous factions. Despite being a designated de-escalation zone as per the Astana agreement between Russia, Iran and Turkey, the region faces regular shelling and has been subject to an intensified assault by regime forces in recent months.
A UN report released at the end of last month found that 272,345 people had been displaced between 15 December and 24 January in the Idlib governorate, stretching health organisations to their limit.
The UN has repeatedly condemned the targeting of hospitals and civilian areas by the Syrian regime, and at the end of January, emphasised the need to respect the region's de-escalation status after a strike in the city of Saraqib put a hospital serving 50,000 people out of action.
"The loss of the provision of these medical services, including surgical and reproductive health services, will have a staggering effect on vulnerable communities affected by this conflict," Panos Moumtzis, UN regional coordinator for the Syria crisis, said in a statement.
In 2017, there were 112 verified attacks on health facilities in Syria, and there have been at least 16 so far this year.
Numerous NGOs, including Amnesty International, have stated that the systematic targeting of hospitals by Russia and the Syrian regime amounts to war crimes.