Hama’s Medical Facilities Under Attack

As fighting in Syria’s Hama governorate intensified over the last week of March, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) reported that at least two Hama medical facilities came under attack during the last seven days of the month. The two facilities — a hospital in Latamneh and a medical point in Kafar Naboudah — together serve tens of thousands of people in a region of Syria that has come under increasing bombardment as opposition forces mount a major offensive in Hama governorate. Both attacks violate international law, in that they are either intentional attacks on medical facilities or indiscriminate attacks on civilian-populated areas.

“Hospitals have become scenes of total devastation and destruction throughout this conflict,” said PHR’s lead Syria researcher Elise Baker. “What we’re seeing in Hama governorate is an extension of a gruesome pattern of attacks against medical facilities and personnel across the country. As we’ve seen throughout the conflict, as fighting intensifies and the need for medical care grows, hospitals and other medical facilities come under increasing attack. These attacks are a merciless and illegal approach to warfare that amount to war crimes.”

On March 25, the Latamneh surgical hospital — a facility built into a cave to protect it from airstrikes — was hit by multiple barrel bombs. While the attack only caused minor structural damage to the facility, multiple sources inside the hospital testified that at least one of the bombs, which landed inside the hospital, contained a chemical agent. The hospital’s coordinator told PHR that the attack began around 3 p.m. local time and that chemical exposure led to the death of one of the hospital’s doctors, Dr. Ali Ahmed Darwish.

“Our hospital is underground, and the room that was hit is located off the main entrance. Eleven people fainted from the chemical gas. Symptoms included yellowish complexion, red and burning eyes, shortness of breath, and vomiting. A doctor and a technician fainted while performing surgery.”

Anonymous hospital staff member

“After viewing video and images of affected individuals at Latamneh, their apparent symptoms are consistent with exposure to a chemical attack,” said Dr. Homer Venters, PHR’s director of programs. “The suffering inflicted by such attacks can be immense. Exposure to certain types of chemical gas can cause severe pulmonary damage, chemical burns in the respiratory system, burning and blistering on exposed skin, and in some cases death. The use of such weapons is inhumane, illegal, and unconscionable.”

PHR’s director of programs reviewed this and other images of apparent victims of the strike on the hospital at Latamneh. PHR uses a variety of open-source information and contacts in Syria to verify attacks on medical facilities.

Early in the afternoon on March 28, a medical point in nearby Kafr Naboudah — located just 10 miles from Latamneh — came under rocket fire. The shelling caused moderate damage to the facility and injured one medical worker. Staff were forced to close the facility and have since relocated to a new underground location farther from the front lines.

“One of the rockets hit the emergency room where I was present, and I was hit by shrapnel in the leg. Today we moved locations as the zone we were in came under fire and we were afraid we would be targeted again.”

Kafr Naboudah facility staff member

“Even in the heat of battle, parties to a conflict are required to protect medical facilities and personnel, no matter what,” said PHR’s Baker. “There is no justification for these ongoing attacks on hospitals and doctors. Every party to the Syrian conflict — and all those who support fighters on the ground or in the skies — are responsible for stopping this egregious assault on health care. And it is up to world leaders to ensure those who carry out these attacks will be held accountable.”

As of October 2016, PHR has documented 433 attacks on 297 separate medical facilities, as well as the deaths of 786 medical personnel.

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