Friday 20 July 2018

Thirty dead after airstrike hits Aleppo hospital

Josie Ensor in Beirut

The last paediatrician in rebel-held Aleppo was among as many as 30 people killed yesterday in a Syrian regime airstrike on a hospital backed by the Red Cross.

Dr Muhmmad Wassim Maaz, five colleagues and at least three children being treated at the hospital in the district of Sukkari died when it was hit by four direct strikes just before midnight yesterday.

Fresh strikes during the day hit the rebel-held north Aleppo neighbourhood of Kalasa.

Hossam Abu Ghayth (29), a documentary film-maker living in Kalasa said: "There are still planes (flying). They're hitting everything, mosques, markets, residential buildings, field hospitals. Dozens of people are under the rubble and the Civil Defence cannot dig out the bodies because of the intensity" of the bombardments.

Meanwhile, there were unconfirmed reports last night that US troops had entered Syria through the north-east.

The al-Quds hospital hit in the night, which is supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), is one of few remaining available to residents in the opposition-controlled areas around eastern Aleppo. MSF said the 34-bed, multi-storey hospital was the main referral centre for paediatric care and provided a casualty unit, intensive care and an operating theatre, which had all been destroyed.

A man carries a child after airstrikes hit Aleppo, Syria
A man carries a child after airstrikes hit Aleppo, Syria
A Civil Defense worker carries a child after airstrikes hit Aleppo, Syria
An injured woman reacts at a site hit by airstrikes in the rebel held area of Old Aleppo, Syria. Photo: Reuters
The scene in Aleppo, Syria, after a series of air strikes and shelling (AP)
United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura

Another of the victims was a nurse named only as Safaa, killed with her husband and two children, and the hospital's dentist, Dr Mohamed Ahmad.

The White Helmets, a British-funded volunteer rescue team, were yesterday continuing to dig through the debris of the hospital in an attempt to locate and recover survivors.

"It hit in the middle of the night," one rescuer said. "The children were sleeping in their beds - we fear some of them are still missing under the rubble."

A video posted online showed a number of bodies, including those of children, being pulled from a building and loaded into ambulances amid screaming and wailing.

"Dr Wassim was the last paediatrician in Aleppo and a respected member of our extended team," the Relief International charity said last night. "We grieve for him and the two colleagues we lost."

The Syrian government later denied responsibility, but the airstrike was one of a number of attacks reported by emergency workers over the past week, suggesting a broader pattern of the targeting of hospitals.

Days earlier, five members of the White Helmets were killed when warplanes bombed one of their bases in al-Atarib, west of Aleppo. Mohammed Alloush, the political leader of the main opposition group Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam), condemned the attacks, saying, in a reference to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: "Whoever carries out these massacres needs a war tribunal and a court of justice to be tried for his crimes. He does not need a negotiating table."

An intensification in fighting in Aleppo, the country's former commercial hub, where some 250,000 still live, has killed at least 186 people in a week and threatens to finish off the fragile ceasefire once and for all. Rebels have controlled its eastern districts since 2012.

The Syrian government claims large areas are held by jihadist rebels, including al-Qa'ida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, and are therefore not covered by the ceasefire agreed two months ago. Hospitals that they say are under al-Nusra control are considered legitimate targets.

The regime, backed by Russian warplanes, is preparing a much larger offensive to retake the whole of Aleppo.

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that stocks of contingency food and medical aid were expected to run out soon and such an escalation meant that they could not be replenished. It said in a statement yesterday that the fighting was putting millions of people at grave risk.

Reports emerged yesterday that 150 US troops had entered Syria through the northeast of the country.

They were said to be in Rmeilan airfield, in an area controlled by the Kurdish YPG militia.

The Syrian government said the move would violate its sovereignty and described it as an act of "blatant aggression".

Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, meanwhile, begged the US and Russia to help revive stalled peace talks in Geneva and a ceasefire which he said "hangs by a thread". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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