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Syrian Government Forces Pound Health Care System in Idlib

Latest Data Show an Increase in Attacks on Medical Personnel

For Immediate Release

The Syrian government kept up its assault on the health care system in August, which saw an unprecedented number of attacks on medical facilities in a four-day period, as well as the highest number of medical personnel killed in the last 10 months.

Data released by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today show that between August 7-10, Syrian government forces launched aerial attacks on nine medical facilities in the Idlib governorate, in the northwest part of the country. The facilities were all within 30 miles of each other and at least six miles from the nearest frontlines.

“We have never before seen government forces carry out such a concentrated series of attacks,” said Widney Brown, PHR’s director of programs. “What makes these attacks so striking is that the government can’t even pretend there is a legitimate military target in the area they are going after.”

PHR documented three additional aerial attacks on medical facilities throughout the country in August, bringing the month’s total to 12, along with the deaths of 15 medical personnel, the highest number since October 2014.

Since the conflict started in March 2011, PHR has recorded a total of 307 attacks on 225 medical facilities and the deaths of 670 medical personnel. Government forces are behind more than 90 percent of these attacks, each of which constitutes a war crime. Over the past six months, from March through August, PHR has documented 74 attacks on medical facilities, the highest number in any six-month period throughout the conflict.

PHR’s interactive map shows Syrian forces are responsible for all 12 of the August attacks on facilities and all deaths of medical personnel, including two by torture. PHR also pointed out that in seven of the 12 facility attacks, government forces used missiles and rockets, which, given an increase in Russian military presence in Syria, may indicate increased use of sophisticated weaponry.

During one of the five attacks in Idlib on August 7, an anesthesiologist and two nurses were prepping a patient for surgery when a missile struck right outside the operating room, killing all four of them. The hospital’s operating room, obstetrics room, imaging room, pharmacy, and the incubator department were all destroyed, and the hospital was put out of service. This is the fourth time that hospital has been attacked since the conflict started.

The spike in attacks on August 7 mirrors the trend of Syrian forces increasing attacks on health facilities after the UN Security Council takes up resolutions directed at the Syrian government. On at least five occasions since 2012, these attacks increased immediately after the passage or vetoes of the resolutions. The government attacked five hospitals on August 7, the same day the Security Council passed a resolution establishing an attribution mechanism for chlorine gas attacks.

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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