For Immediate Release
Over the past week, Syrian government forces launched deadly airstrikes against six hospitals in and around Aleppo, the worst week for attacks on medical facilities in that region since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) verified each attack, including three strikes on hospitals in Aleppo’s now besieged eastern half within a 24-hour period, which killed patients and further deprived nearly 300,000 people now trapped in eastern Aleppo of life-saving medical care.
“Since June, we’ve seen increasing reports of attacks on civilians in Aleppo and strikes on the region’s remaining medical infrastructure. Each of these assaults constitutes a war crime,” said Widney Brown, PHR’s director of programs. “Destroying hospitals is tantamount to signing thousands of death warrants for people now stranded in eastern Aleppo. The bombings, the lack of humanitarian aid, and the failure of the United Nations to deliver any kind of assistance means the death toll may soon be catastrophic.”
All six facilities hit between July 23 and July 31 were major hospitals in Aleppo governorate, including a referral hospital just outside opposition-held eastern Aleppo and a pediatric clinic inside the city where four infants died after their oxygen supply was cut. Since the beginning of the conflict, PHR has documented 373 attacks on 265 medical facilities, as well as the deaths of 750 medical personnel. The organization confirmed today that five of the six hospitals struck in the past week had previously been bombed by Syrian government forces.
In addition to the fatalities, the facilities hit over the past week sustained significant structural damage, and vital medical equipment and supplies were destroyed. This comes after Syrian government forces under the command of President Bashar al-Assad closed off the last supply route into eastern Aleppo, effectively placing it under siege. Humanitarian organizations have warned that food supplies in the city could run out within weeks.
“Now that the people of eastern Aleppo are stranded, Assad wants them to suffer and die,” said PHR’s Brown. “The government’s campaign to kill doctors and destroy hospitals isn’t new. The intentional starvation of civilians isn’t new. But the UN Security Council has failed to take effective action to stop these crimes, and it is civilians who are suffering as a result. By destroying hospitals – often the only hope for survival in a war zone – Assad is ensuring his own citizens will perish.”
Last week, Russian and Syrian officials announced the establishment of allegedly safe corridors to allow passage of civilians out of Aleppo, but, fearing reprisals and wary of Syrian government promises, few have used the routes to flee. PHR today expressed grave skepticism that those escape routes were even passable.
“It is absurd to think the people of Aleppo would trust the government that’s been trying to kill them for the past five years. They survived sniper fire, barrel bombs, and aerial assaults, and know first-hand the government’s utter disregard for their lives,” said PHR’s Brown. “These fictional escape routes are being used as a fig leaf so Russian and Syrian government forces can unleash their deadly arsenal on the people of Aleppo, claiming that civilians were given a path to escape.”
PHR has called on the Syrian government to lift sieges across the country and has demanded immediate and unconditional access for humanitarian supply convoys. Aid groups estimate that one million civilians are trapped in besieged areas, the majority encircled by Syrian government forces. And PHR reiterated today that despite promises to the contrary, Syrian and Russian forces have been striking civilian targets.
“With the establishment of civilian corridors from Aleppo, Russia and Syria are acknowledging that they have been attacking civilians throughout this conflict. Their lies continue to mount,” said PHR’s Brown. “The failure of the UN to get humanitarian aid to those who need it is inexcusable. Now, with hundreds of thousands of lives on the line, all eyes are on the UN to see if it will finally act, or if it will stand by and allow an already dire situation to turn even more deadly.”
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.