The UN Security Council should impose targeted sanctions on all those carrying out deliberate attacks on hospitals and other war crimes, said Amnesty International as it released harrowing testimony revealing how hundreds of civilians, including children, have been killed by intensified Syrian government air strikes since April 21.
The organization interviewed doctors and activists in Aleppo including several who were in the al-Quds civilian hospital when it was attacked on April 27 by the Syrian government. The eyewitnesses described terrible scenes of destruction, said that the hospital was well-known and clearly marked and that the nearest military installation was over a kilometer away.
Al-Dabeet hospital, in the Syrian government-controlled al-Mohafaza area, catering to women and children was also damaged in a rocket attack today. It is unclear where the attack came from but media reports suggest it was from an armed group. A hospital employee told Amnesty International that four women were killed and several more injured when a rocket fell outside the hospital, destroying its emergency room.
Following the al-Quds hospital attack, a field clinic in the al-Marji suburb of Aleppo in opposition held area was hit by a rocket on April 29. No one was injured as the clinic was closed at the time.
“Nothing can justify deliberate attacks on hospitals carrying out their humanitarian function. These despicable strikes are the latest in a long bloody line of such attacks that are being carried out with impunity. They must be investigated and stopped,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, interim Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.
“We have documented how Russian and Syrian government forces systematically targeted hospitals in opposition-controlled areas around Aleppo as a strategy of war. As the ceasefire unravels, such blatant breaches of international law must not be allowed to continue.”
One doctor who was working in al-Quds hospital when it was bombed told Amnesty International that the rocket hit the emergency room, killing 27 medical staff, workers and patients. He said there were more medical staff than usual in the emergency room because of the intensity of shelling in Aleppo that day and the high number of casualties brought in.
Another doctor who was in the emergency room described the attack:
“The rocket fell on the door, killing a guard and a medical worker. I did not hear the plane or the strike. I felt an explosion, electricity cut and I woke up with a buzzing sound in my ear. I couldn’t see from the dust. I looked at the main emergency door but it was blocked by the destruction. It took me 30 seconds to realize what happened. I heard my colleagues screaming but I completely forgot what I was taught in medical school. At first I did not know how to respond.
“I saw the general manager and another colleague on the ground screaming and injured. Another staff member had a broken leg. I saw two of the medical team dead, not moving. They were not only my colleagues but my friends as well.
“We couldn’t evacuate the injured from the door because it was blocked but the civil defense team managed to evacuate the injured. Civilians including children and women were killed in the hospital. They were waiting for their relatives in the emergency room.”
According to the Forensic Office in the opposition-held part of Aleppo, airstrikes in the city between April 21 and 30 killed a total of 193 civilians including 40 children and injured at least 398 civilians.
One activist described a rocket strike on the al-Kalasse neighborhood on April 28:
“I saw the bodies of a woman and her four daughters, the eldest was 15 years old, and her sister-in-law who were removed from under the rubble of a building that had completely collapsed. I also saw the bodies of a man and his two boys, 13 and 12 years old, removed from under the rubble from the second building. It was devastating. These are our neighbors who we see and talk to on the streets. They died in one minute.”
Activists told Amnesty International of about 25 civilians being killed when residential buildings were destroyed by intensified airstrikes in western Aleppo neighborhoods such as al-Kalasse, Sukari, Ferdous and Bustan al Qasr on April 29.
Deliberate attacks on civilians not directly participating in hostilities and on civilian objects, including hospitals and other medical facilities, are serious violations of international humanitarian law and amount to war crimes. Under the laws of war, hospitals and medical units enjoy special protection. They only lose their protection from attacks if they are being used outside their humanitarian function to commit “acts harmful to the enemy” such as to store weapons.
Amnesty International is calling for the international community to renew its efforts to pressure all parties to the conflict in Syria to stop targeting civilians in attacks that clearly constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity The UN Security council should impose targeted sanctions on parties to the conflict that violate Resolution 2254 which calls for an end to attacks against civilians and civilian objects including medical facilities.
“It seems as though the tenuous grip that the international community had on this situation with the cessation of hostilities is now slipping out of reach. As the human toll of renewed war crimes continues to grow, so must the urgency with which the international community strives to end attacks on civilians,” said Mughrabi.