Syrian hospital strikes kill 50, cast doubt on ceasefire hopes

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BEIRUT: Hopes for a ceasefire in Syria were fading on Tuesday, after dozens were killed in air strikes on hospitals that France branded war crimes and Syria’s president said implementing a truce would prove “difficult”.

The United Nations said nearly 50 civilians, including children, died in bombings of at least five medical facilities and two schools in northern Syria’s Aleppo and Idlib provinces.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the raids violated international law and “cast a shadow” over efforts to end Syria’s five-year civil war, while France said the attacks “constitute war crimes”.

“Attacks against health facilities in Syria by the regime or its supporters are unacceptable and must stop immediately,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

The United States, which like the UN did not identify who carried out the air strikes, said two civilian hospitals were hit in northern Syria: one run run by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and another in rebel-held Azaz city.

The region around Syria’s second city of Aleppo has been the target of a major offensive by Syrian government troops, backed by Russian warplanes, which has sent tens of thousands fleeing to the Turkish border.

“That the Assad regime and its supporters would continue these attacks … casts doubt on Russia’s willingness and/or ability to help bring to a stop the continued brutality of the Assad regime against its own people,” the State Department said.

MSF confirmed a hospital supported by the charity was hit in Idlib, northwest Syria, and said seven people were killed and at least eight were missing, presumed dead.

But Syria’s ambassador to Moscow, Riad Haddad, said the hospital had been targeted by a US raid.

“American warplanes destroyed it. Russian warplanes had nothing to do with any of it — the information that has been gathered will completely back that up,” he told Russian state television channel Rossiya 24.

 EU joins condemnation

Moscow says its military intervention has targeted the militant Islamic State (IS) group and other “terrorists”, but activists say Russia’s raids have caused disproportionately high civilian casualties.

Russia has been accused of hitting several health facilities since its Syrian aerial campaign began September 30.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini branded the Idlib attack “unacceptable” and urged “all parties (to respect) basic principles of humanitarian law”.

The Observatory also reported 10 civilians, including three children, were killed in suspected Russian strikes in and nearby Azaz that hit near a hospital, it said.

Russia’s air strikes have allowed government forces to press a major operation that has virtually encircled rebels in eastern Aleppo city, as well as pushing them from much of the region to the north.

They have angered Turkey, with Davutoglu on Monday warning: “If Russia continues behaving like a terrorist organisation and forcing civilians to flee, we will deliver an extremely decisive response.”

Moscow called Turkey’s shelling in Syria “provocative” and said it supported raising the issue at the UN Security Council.

A US State Department spokesperson urged Turkey and Russia to avoid any further escalation.

“It is important that the Russians and Turks speak directly, and take measures to prevent escalation,” the spokesperson told AFP.

 

More than 260,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

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