6 killed, dozens injured in government shelling on hospital in Syria

Artillery shelling killed six civilians, including a child when it hit a surgical hospital in rebel-held northwest Syria, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has said in a statement.

The attack on Sunday in the town of Atareb has also wounded 16 civilians including five health staff, the IRC said. The hospital is now out of service.

“Four of the injured are in a critical condition,” IRC said, adding that the hospital is run by its partner organisation SAMS.

The attack came despite a Russian-Turkish ceasefire in force since March 2020, covering the wider rebel-held stronghold in northwest Syria.

Turkey’s defence ministry and a war monitor earlier reported that Syrian government artillery fire hit the hospital’s main entrance inside a cave.

The hospital is located underground, a tactic used by the opposition to avoid being targeted in the conflict-prone area.

“Although SAMS shared the hospital’s coordinates through the UN’s notification system, it came under attack and has now been damaged so severely that it can no longer be used,” Rehana Zawar, the IRC’s country director for northwest Syria said in a statement.

“This is the fifth attack on health care that has been recorded so far this year, and brings the total number of attacks on health care since January 2019 to 118.

“Health facilities are protected under international law and should be safe havens in times of crisis, but after 10 years of war this is not the case in Syria. Since the start of the conflict, Physicians for Human Rights have documented close to 600 attacks on health care,” Zawar said.

In a report released earlier this month, the IRC highlighted the ways in which the war in Syria has turned hospitals from places of shelter to danger zones.

According to the report, an estimated 70 percent of the health workforce has left the country, leaving just one Syrian doctor for every 10,000 civilians. Only 58 percent of hospitals remain fully functional, the UN says.

Rebel-held Idlib province, which was dubbed a “dumping ground” for evacuees who fled government offensives in other parts of the country, is now facing a raging coronavirus pandemic while much of its healthcare facilities are in ruins. The region is home to nearly 3 million people, most of whom are internally displaced.