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New Attacks on Hospitals and Civilians in Idlib Signal Escalation in Syrian Conflict

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has received reports that three hospitals, two Syrian Civil Defense Centers, and an ambulance system were attacked and put out of service in the Idlib governorate, in the northwest part of Syria on September 6 and 7. In the last few weeks, government forces have been gathering south of Idlib and the Syrian government and its Russian ally resumed intensive airstrikes on the governorate and the northern countryside of neighboring Hama.

As the last remaining opposition and rebel stronghold, Idlib is now facing an increase in ongoing attacks by Syrian and Russian military airstrikes and shelling. These air raids and shelling further escalated after Russia, Iran, and Turkey failed to reach an agreement during the Tehran summit on Friday, September 7, 2018. The media has reported that this latest attack killing at least six civilians is likely the initial phase of a series of broader, and more deadly, repeated military operations on Idlib. 

“More than thirty thousand people have fled their homes in and around Idlib over the past few days. With this assault, the Syrian government and its allies have once again demonstrated their disregard for civilian life. It is unconscionable for the Syrian government to continue to carry out such attacks,” said Homer Venters, MD, PHR director of programs.

The use of chemical weapons is also a concern. Since the beginning of the conflict the Syrian government has already unleashed at least 85 confirmed such attacks on its own citizens, and the people of Idlib could well be their next target. Each of these attacks are war crimes and taken together, they constitute crimes against humanity.

Control over Idlib would allow Bashar al-Assad to regain full control of Syria. These and any further attacks on Idlib would have devastating consequences for the roughly three million people who live there, 1.2 million of whom were already displaced from other provinces in Syria. The UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock has warned that an offensive on Idlib would result in the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century.

More than seven years into this conflict, the Syrian government has failed to heed near-constant warnings from humanitarian and human rights groups against attacks on civilians and health infrastructure. With Russia’s rejection of Turkey’s ceasefire proposal, the situation in Idlib headed toward further escalation.

“The international community must apply pressure on Syria and Russia to prioritize civilian safety and protection – avoiding unnecessary loss of life and refraining from using banned weapons such as chemical weapons,” said Venters. “The international community has a responsibility to protect the people of Idlib. They must act before it is too late.”

Physicians for Human Rights maintains a comprehensive map of attacks against health facilities in Syria, available here.

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.