The Syrian regime and its Russian allies have attacked hospitals 92 times since January, a record high less than six months into 2018, the UN announced yesterday.
“The bombing over hospitals in Syria has killed 89 people and wounded 135 since the beginning of 2018,” the spokesman for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Farhan Haq said, a significant increase from the 73 civilians killed and 149 injured of last year.
President Bashar Al-Assad’s government has been accused of targeting hospitals amid a spate of increased attacks since the beginning of this year, particularly in the northwest; the last attack to date took place in Idlib last weekend.
“Civilian areas – specifically healthcare facilities – are being hit in north-western Syria,” Doctors Without Borders (MSF) mission head Omar Ahmed Abenza said earlier this year. “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.”
Reports from the ground also claim that several hospitals were targeted after drones followed ambulances from the site of a previous bombing in order to establish its location. Numerous NGOs, including Amnesty International, have stated that the systematic targeting of hospitals by Russia and the Syrian regime amounts to war crimes.
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.
The bombardment comes as Syrian refugees continue to arrive in the province after being evacuated from former opposition strongholds by the regime. Earlier this week, some 3,500 displaced people from the Homs countryside arrived in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib.
On Wednesday, at the ninth round of the Astana talks, Russian presidential envoy Alexander Lavrentyev threatened to eliminate Syrian opposition factions that resist being deported to the northern stronghold of Idlib.
The mass evacuation of fighters and civilians has prompted fear of a regime assault on the northern opposition territory, with special envoy to Syria warning that such action would be “six times” more destructive than the battle to recapture Ghouta, which fell last month after years of siege.
“If we see a Ghouta scenario in Idlib, this could be six times worse, affecting 2.3 million people,” Staffan de Mistura told the UN Security Council’s monthly meeting on the Syria conflict.
Despite Russia agreeing that the de-escalation status of Idlib must be protected, the governorate has continued to be bombarded by warplanes. Air strikes on the residential area of Ariha city killed two girls this week, with the White Helmets defence unit reporting that Syrian regime strikes left at least eight civilians dead yesterday.