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After Outcry Over Rescued Boy, PHR Debunks Russian Denial of Attacking Civilians

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said today it was deeply moved by images of a young boy rescued in Aleppo, and disputed the Russian government's assertion that it was not responsible for strikes against civilians. The following statement is attributable to Donna McKay, executive director of PHR:

“The pictures of Omran, a young Syrian boy who survived yet another merciless assault against the civilians of Aleppo, moved us deeply. His stunned face reminded us once again of the terrors of a conflict that’s claimed half a million lives. It also reminded us that each morning, countless Syrians wake up not knowing whether today they will die a violent, quick death by barrel bomb or a slow, agonizing death by starvation. It's a cruel guessing game that no child, indeed no man or woman, should ever face.

“Then today, the Russian Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying its forces weren't responsible for the strike that nearly killed Omran. The statement went on to claim that Russian forces 'do not make strikes against targets inside inhabited areas.' Nothing could be further from the truth. Since launching its military campaign in support of Syrian government forces, Russian aircraft have hit numerous civilian targets, including well over a dozen clearly-identifiable hospitals, killing and injuring scores of people.

“What’s more, the Russian statement claims damage shown in the video of Omran’s rescue could not have been inflicted by an airstrike because windows in nearby buildings weren’t blown out. Such an analysis is factually incorrect. It’s part of an ongoing pattern by the Russian government to deny its role in injuring and killing civilians in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And in an escalation of warfare, the Russian Air Force is now launching attacks from Iranian bases, able to carry heavier payloads and inflict even more destruction.

“We at PHR continue to document Russia and Syria's all-out assault on civilians, and in particular their campaign of attacks against medical facilities – including maternity wards and pediatric hospitals – that are supposed to be safe havens during wartime. We have yet to identify the source of the attack that nearly claimed Omran's life, but we do know that Syrian and Russian forces are responsible for more than 90 percent of the 373 strikes on hospitals and medical facilities PHR has documented since the conflict began. We do know that both countries have dropped incendiary and other indiscriminate weapons on civilian areas. And we do know that these are war crimes.

“In Omran's face, caked in dust and blood, we saw our own children, our own loved ones. To ignore his humanity and the humanity of millions of other Syrians is not only callous. It's criminal.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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