Russian warplanes have committed war crimes by striking three medical facilities in Syria in just two days, according to a New-York based humanitarian nonprofit group.
The Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) group on Tuesday said it has “confirmed” that Russian air strikes, which began last week, have “damaged three medical facilities in Syria in two days, exacerbating an already dire situation for civilians living in areas where the health system has been systematically attacked by the Syrian government.”
“Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been relentlessly attacking Syria’s health care system for the past four years and the Russian government is now following in their footsteps,” said Widney Brown, director of programs at PHR. “These attacks are inexcusable.”
“Claiming that the fight is against terrorists does not give any government the right to tear up the laws of war, which specifically protect health workers and facilities,” he added. “With these actions, Russia is damaging hospitals, putting patients and medical staff at risk, and depriving civilians of life-saving access to health care.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense argues that the airstrikes are targeting the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
“However, the three medical facilities are all located more than 30 miles from the nearest [ISIS]-controlled territory. Regardless of location or who the medical staff treat, targeting a medical facility is a war crime,” noted the non-governmental organization (NGO).
Between March 2011, when the Syrian civil war started, and August 2015, PHR said it documented 307 attacks on hospitals in Syria, resulting in the deaths of 670 medical workers.
“Syrian government forces have been responsible for more than 90 percent of these attacks, each of which constitutes a war crime,” explained the NGO. “PHR recently also called for a full and independent investigation of an attack on a Doctors without Borders clinic in Kunduz, Afghanistan.”
According to the NGO, it has confirmed three separate incidents involving Russia’s military targeting medical facilities in Syria over the last week.
On October 2, Russian airstrikes hit a hospital in Latamneh, located in the northern Syrian province of Hama.
“The facility was damaged, and multiple medical staff members were injured,” revealed PHR. “The Syrian government has previously attacked this facility with barrel bombs in June.”
On the same day, Russian warplanes struck “an ambulance depot and emergency response center” in Benin, located in the rural province of Idlib.
“Part of the facility was destroyed, at least two ambulances were seriously damaged, and the depot was temporarily put out of service,” noted the NGO. “Reports indicate that two planes flew over the facility and launched strikes that fell around the depot before circling back and launching another strike, which landed inside the depot. The Syrian government previously attacked this facility with barrel bombs in April.”
The following day, on October 3, the Russian military launched an airstrike that damaged a hospital in northern Latakia, located in the province of the same name along the Turkish border.
“The hospital suffered minor material damage, but had to be evacuated,” noted the New York-based humanitarian group. “The hospital is the only one in the region with an obstetrics/gynecology unit and is now only able to provide some emergency services.”
“Russia has not acknowledged that their air strikes hit or damaged the medical facilities, but confirmed it was conducting air strikes in each of these locations when the attacks occurred,” it added.
The U.S. and its allies have expressed concerns that Russian airstrikes are not strictly targeting ISIS, but are instead striking groups that oppose Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.