Middle East

Syria conflict: Air strike destroys MSF-supported hospital

Aftermath of air strike on hospital supported by MSF in Maarat al-Numan (15 February 2016) Image copyright MSF
Image caption MSF posted a photo showing the aftermath of air strike on hospital in Maarat al-Numan

A hospital in north-west Syria backed by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has been destroyed in an air strike.

The medical organisation said seven people were killed in the attack in Maarat al-Numan and that eight members of staff were missing, presumed dead.

MSF did not say who was responsible, but one monitoring group said Russian aircraft had targeted the town.

The strike comes days after Russia and other world powers agreed to a limited cessation of hostilities in Syria.

More than 250,000 people have died in almost five years of war in Syria.

Eleven million others have fled their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other, as well as jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State (IS).

'Deliberate attack'

Four rockets hit the hospital in Maarat al-Numan, a rebel-held town about 30km (20 miles) south of the city of Idlib, within minutes of each other on Monday morning.

MSF said five patients were killed, as well as a caretaker and a guard. In addition, eight members of staff are missing, presumed dead.

Other patients were also missing, but their numbers were unknown, MSF added.

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

"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 30-bed hospital, which MSF had been supporting since September 2015, had 54 staff, two operating theatres, an outpatients department an emergency room.

Syria's health facilities targeted

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 2015 "saw the most blatant attacks on health facilities in Syria". Between June and August, there were approximately 70 aerial attacks alone
  • Between the start of the uprising in March 2011 and November 2015, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) documented 336 attacks on at least 240 medical facilities, and the deaths of 697 medical personnel
  • Ninety percent of the attacks were carried out by the Syrian government and its allies, according to PHR
  • The UN says an estimated 58% of public hospitals and 49% of primary health centres in Syria are either only partially functional or have closed, limiting healthcare workers' ability to cope with the more than 25,000 trauma cases per month
  • More than 40% of the population in Syria lack access to basic health services, and the shortages of specialised medical staff, ambulances, equipment and medical supplies have led to an increased number of preventable deaths

On 5 February, three people were killed and six wounded when an MSF-supported hospital in the southern province of Deraa was hit in an air strike.

MSF, which operates medical facilities inside Syria and supports directly more than 150 others, said last week that such incidents were further depleting Syria's already exhausted healthcare system and preventing more people from accessing desperately needed medical care.

Since the start of this year alone, 14 health facilities in Syria have been hit, which MSF said confirmed that hospitals and clinics were no longer places where patients could recover in safety.

MSF also reiterated that the repeated attacks on medical facilities in the ongoing conflict constituted a flagrant violation of international laws.

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