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No more safe hospitals in Syria's Idlib.

Summary: September sees highest number of deaths this year caused mostly by Syrian and Russian air strikes

Kareem Shaheen, Guardian News and Media Ltd

Beirut: Syria's war killed at least 3,000 people including 955 civilians in September, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said on Sunday, in the deadliest month of the conflict this year.

"More than 70 per cent of the civilians were killed in regime and Russian air strikes, or in air raids of the international coalition", fighting Daesh, the Britain-based monitor's head Rami Abdul Rahman said.

Renewed bombing of hospitals in Syria's six-year civil war by forces loyal to the government of Bashar Al Assad has sparked strong condemnation by human rights groups and despair among local doctors, who have accused the international community of ignoring attacks on medical facilities.

Doctors said four hospitals had been hit over the past week in Idlib, a rebel-controlled province bordering Turkey, and Hama, scene of recent fighting despite a months-long ceasefire brokered by Ankara and Moscow.

A fifth hospital in Idlib was damaged on Friday afternoon after a nearby residential building was bombed, killing 14 people, local sources said.

"It is demonstrably evident that hospitals are not safe from bombings in Idlib at the moment, and this is outrageous," said Brice de le Vingne, the director of operations at Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), which provides support to one of the hospitals that were hit in recent days.

Two hospitals were evacuated on Wednesday over fears of a possible bombing.

The attacks, which have been deemed by United Nations (UN) investigators a systematic attempt by the Syrian government to target health-care facilities, have placed dire strain on doctors, working under fire with few resources, amid an escalation of violence in recent days in the area, the last bastion of rebel forces battling to overthrow Al Assad.

Dozens of civilians have been killed over the last week and a half, amid a rebel offensive that is ongoing in Hama and retaliatory air raids on civilians in Idlib. MSF said six of the hospitals it supports in the two provinces received 241 wounded and identified 61 dead between September 20 and 27.

Physicians for Human Rights, which tracks attacks against health facilities in Syria, said the latest bout was the most intense against medical facilities since April, and said they may amount to war crimes. The organisation described them as "an egregious violation of the laws of war and a callous attempt to inflict suffering on civilians who have endured relentless warfare for nearly seven years."

The repeated attacks in recent days have led to despair among local doctors, some of whom declined to offer details of the bombings to the Guardian , saying their calls for protection of civilians will fall on deaf ears.

"My message to the international community is, to go ahead, 'why is it taking you so long to finish us off?'" said one aid official who helps manage local hospitals and who asked to remain anonymous because, he said, calling on the international community to act was useless and he did not want to subject his hospitals to further bombings.

"We are closing the hospitals one by one; it's clear this time there are no safe hospitals," he added. "I don't want to give interviews because we are exhausted and feeling hopeless, and we are worried if we give interviews the Russians will come and bomb them over our heads."

Another doctor, whose hospital in Idlib was damaged on Friday after a nearby apartment building was bombed, said the international community was complicit in attacks against civilians in Syria.

"You are partners in our killing with your silence and your failure to save innocent civilians," he said.

Another local doctor sent images of recent destruction at the hospitals and gruesome photos of dismembered bodies, and said he would let the images speak for themselves.

In a resolution on Thursday, the UN Human Rights Council urged all fighting sides in the conflict, particularly the Syrian government and its allies, to halt indiscriminate attacks against civilians, hospitals and medical workers.

The fate of Idlib, one of the last bastions of rebel control, is still contested amid attempts by Russia, Turkey and Iran to broker a peace settlement in Syria, as the Al Assad regime lurches towards a battlefield victory enabled by its allies in Moscow and Tehran.

The province houses tens of thousands of internal refugees who fled the fighting elsewhere in the country or were evacuated in ceasefire deals. The most powerful military faction in the region is Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS), which is led by the former Al Qaida affiliate, Jabhat Fateh Al Sham.

Russian president Vladimir Putin was in Ankara on Thursday to meet with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At a press conference, they said they would continue to work together on a political solution in Syria that maintains the country's territorial integrity.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Oct 1, 2017
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