Thursday 23 November 2017

Russia targeted Syrian hospital in air strikes, says charity MSF

People stand around the rubble of a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) near Maaret al-Numan, in Syria's northern province of Idlib. Photo: Getty Images
People stand around the rubble of a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) near Maaret al-Numan, in Syria's northern province of Idlib. Photo: Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: AP

Richard Spencer in London

The charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has accused Russia of deliberately striking a hospital it runs in Syria, killing at least nine people including a baby.

MSF said two series of strikes yesterday hit the hospital in the rebel-held north-western province of Idlib, not far from the Turkish border. It was hit four times within a few minutes.

Eight members of staff were missing, it said. Separately, the monitoring group Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said nine people had been killed, including the baby.

"This appears to be a deliberate attack on a health structure, and we condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms," Massimiliano Rebaudengo, MSF's head of mission, said.

"The destruction of the hospital leaves the local population of around 40,000 people without access to medical services in an active zone of conflict."

The strike was part of the intensified Russian air raids across northern Syria as it supports regime advances in and around the city of Aleppo.

The area of Idlib where the strike happened, Maarat al-Numan, is close to what is now the only route into the city for the rebels, after their supply line to the north was cut by a pro-regime advance by Iranian-supplied Shia militias.

North of Alep po, at least 14 civilians were killed when missiles hit a children's hospital, a school and other locations in the rebel-held town of Azaz, according to other reports.

At least five missiles hit the hospital in the town centre and a nearby school, where refugees fleeing a major Syrian army offensive were sheltering.

A resident said another refugee shelter south of the town was also hit by bombs dropped by jets believed to be Russian.

Tens of thousands of people have fled to the town, the last rebel stronghold before the border with Turkey, from towns and villages where there is heavy fighting between the Syrian army and militias.

"We have been moving scores of screaming children from the hospital," said Dr Juma Rahal. At least two children were killed and ambulances ferried scores of injured people to Turkey for treatment, he said.

The town of Azaz controls the nearby Bab al-Salama border crossing with Turkey, and represents a sliver of rebel-held territory on the border between Kurdish forces to the West and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) to the east.

The border crossing has been a major supply line for both non-Isil rebels heading to Aleppo and jihadists. Turkey also sees it as a vital lifeline, and Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, said troops would do whatever was necessary to stop Azaz falling into Kurdish hands.

Turkey's main goal in the war now is to prevent a semi-autonomous Kurdish state allied to the guerrilla group the PKK, which has been fighting in an insurgency for three decades in Turkey's south-east, from forming along the whole northern Syrian border.

The Kurdish YPG militia, which is allied to the PKK and controls the area around the town of Afrin to the west of Azaz, has used the recent chaos to press forward. It has been supported by the Russian air force, as its forces in the east were supported by the United States air force as it fought back against Isil.

This means that the non-Isil rebels are now fighting Isil, the regime and its Iranian militias, the Kurds and the Russian air force simultaneously.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Davutoglu confirmed that the Turkish military had shelled YPG forces near Azaz over the weekend.

"YPG elements were forced away from around Azaz," he said. "If they approach again they will see the harshest reaction. We will not allow Azaz to fall."

Later in the day, the Turkish prime minister accused Russia of behaving like a "terrorist organisation".

"If Russia continues behaving like a terrorist organisation and forcing civilians to flee, we will deliver an extremely decisive response," Mr Davutoglu said through an official translator during a visit to Kiev.

"Unfortunately, barbaric attacks on civilians are continuing in Syria and these attacks are being waged by both Russia and terrorist groups," he said.

"Russia and other terrorist organisations - first and foremost, the Islamist State in Syria - are responsible for numerous crimes against humanity," he added (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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