UN probe into Syria hospital attacks
The United Nations has ordered an investigation into a surge of Russian and Syrian airstrikes against hospitals and clinics in northwestern Syria amid growing concerns that Russia is using UN-supplied data to deliberately target medical facilities.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres authorised the inquiry after pressure from UN Security Council members and human rights groups to do more to establish why health facilities and other civilian infrastructure such as schools and rescue services are being hit so frequently in the recent fighting.
The investigation came after a grim assessment of the civilian toll in the battles, which was delivered to the UN Security Council on Wednesday by UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock.
Since the Syrian Government launched an offensive in April to reclaim control of the northwestern province of Idlib and a portion of the province of Hama, more than 450 civilians have been killed, hundreds more have been wounded, and 440,000 have been forced to flee their homes, he said.
Most of the casualties have been caused by Russian and Syrian airstrikes, which have pummeled towns and villages far from the frontlines.
Lowcock cited satellite imagery that suggests 17 villages have been completely destroyed in airstrikes, as part of what he called a “scorched earth” policy by the Syrian Government.
He also noted the high frequency of attacks on civilian infrastructure, despite a process known as deconfliction under which the UN supplies the co-ordinates of hospitals, schools, bakeries and other civilian infrastructure to Russia, Turkey and the United States, with the goal of preventing hits on them. Russian and Syrian warplanes are the only ones active in the skies over Idlib.
At a minimum, Lowcock said, the deconfliction process “is not proving effective” to avert attacks on civilian infrastructure.
It was also possible, he said, that the co-ordinates are being used to deliberately target facilities.
According to Physicians for Human Rights, there have been 46 reported attacks on medical facilities since the Syrian Government launched an offensive in April, backed by Russian warplanes, to regain control of the last areas still controlled by the opposition.