- Russian aircraft carried out attack, according to rebel group
- Attack leaves about 40,000 people without medical services
Airstrikes hit a hospital supported by Medecins Sans Frontieres in Syria’s northern Idlib province, killing at least seven people. An organization monitoring the conflict and the main Syrian opposition group said Russian aircraft carried out the attack.
In an e-mailed statement, MSF said five patients, a caretaker and a guard were killed. At least eight staff members were missing and presumed dead, and several patients were unaccounted for. The hospital was hit four times within minutes in at least two strikes, the statement said.
The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which receives reports from activists on the ground, said nine people were killed.
“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 in the statement. The 30-bed hospital had 54 staff, two operating theaters, an outpatients department and an emergency room. Its destruction leaves about 40,000 people without medical services in an active conflict zone, MSF said.
The medical group, also known in English as Doctors Without Borders, didn’t say who carried out the attack, but the Syrian National Coalition, the main political opposition group, also blamed the Russian air force, saying in an e-mailed statement that “it’s not the first crime Russia has committed.”
The U.S. also condemned the continued strikes “against innocent civilian targets,” citing the MSF hospital as well as the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Azaz city.
The attacks on civilians cast “doubt on Russia’s willingness and/or ability to help bring to a stop the continued brutality of the Assad regime against its own people,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement posted on the department’s website.
Russia has come under growing pressure to help turn last week’s vows to forge a cease-fire into a reduction in violence. President Vladimir Putin entered the conflict on the side of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad more than four months ago, and Russia’s airstrikes have helped to drive back rebel forces in Idlib, Aleppo and other parts of Syria.
The fate of the truce deal was thrown into doubt almost immediately after it was announced on Feb. 12. On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that the U.S. is reneging on the agreement and put the chances of success at less than 50 percent. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry demanded an end to Russian bombing of groups that are opposed to Assad but aligned with the U.S.-led effort to defeat Islamic State terrorists.
MSF-supported health facilities in Yemen have also been attacked, in airstrikes in October and January that left several people dead.