The Syrian Government Is Systematically Targeting Hospitals With Airstrikes

08/21/2015
map showing Syria
“The regime knows that there is a hospital here, and it wants to destroy it,” said one surgeon in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, who says his hospital has been attacked five times.
 
ISTANBUL—The Syrian government has been attacking hospitals across the war-torn country with alarming regularity, according to doctors and NGOs working there.
 
A 45-year-old pediatrician who runs a children’s hospital in the northern city of Aleppo—and who asked to go by his first name, Hassan, for security reasons—recounted one airstrike on June 10 that knocked the facility out of service for days. Early in the morning, Dr. Hassan said in an interview via Skype, a government aircraft dropped a barrel bomb that hit just outside the hospital, sending staff scrambling to relocate patients and pull infants from their incubators.
 
“It was so dangerous, but it would have been more dangerous to leave them there,” he said.
 
The use of barrel bombs—crude, powerful explosives that wreak havoc on civilians who remain in places like Aleppo, a key theater of the war—has been widely condemned by the international community. Attacks on hospitals, meanwhile, are banned under the Geneva Convention. The government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has nonetheless carried them out throughout the war, Dr. Hassan and others said, intensifying the suffering in a conflict that has left more than 220,000 dead and created over 4 million refugees.
 
One doctor working at a hospital in the southern province of Daraa recounted the latest barrel-bomb attack there, which he said hit earlier this month.
 
“We are working amid the generators and the bustle of the place, so often we don’t hear the roar of the helicopter hovering over our heads,” he said, also requesting anonymity for his safety.
 
“We heard the sound of a powerful explosion, and then glass from the windows fell on us, and all the mothers of the children in the [maternity ward] were screaming.”
 
Fadel Abdul Ghani, who runs the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a monitoring group that documents government airstrikes, said the attacks on hospitals are a “systematic and widespread strategy” employed by the government. “The majority of the hospitals [in opposition-held areas] have been targeted,” he said.