Syrian medics and patients once again targets as strikes hit Aleppo hospitals

UN chief Ban Ki-moon denounced the attacks as 'war crimes'.
Medics inspect the damage outside a field hospital after an airstrike on the rebel-held Al Maadi neighbourhood of Aleppo on September 28, 2016. Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters
Medics inspect the damage outside a field hospital after an airstrike on the rebel-held Al Maadi neighbourhood of Aleppo on September 28, 2016. Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

ALEPPO // The United States threatened to suspend its engagement with Russia over Syria on Wednesday following escalating attacks on rebel-held parts of Aleppo, including strikes on two hospitals.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon denounced the attacks – in which the two largest hospitals in Aleppo’s opposition-controlled east were hit with air strikes and artillery fire – as “war crimes”.

Syrian president Bashar Al Assad’s forces and his ally Moscow have carried out a barrage of air strikes on eastern Aleppo since Syria’s regime announced a bid last week to retake all of the divided city.

Dozens of civilians have been killed, residential buildings have been reduced to rubble and residents of eastern districts – already suffering under a government siege – are facing severe shortages of food and medical supplies.

The latest bombardment has been some of the worst in Syria’s five-year civil war, and comes after the failure of a short-lived ceasefire brokered by Russia and the United States earlier this month.

Moscow and Washington have traded blame over the ceasefire’s collapse, with stinging US criticism of Russia’s participation in the Aleppo offensive.

On Wednesday, US secretary of state John Kerry warned his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, that Washington would end talks on the Syrian conflict unless Moscow halts the assault on Aleppo.

Mr Kerry said the burden was on Russia to stop the assault and ensure humanitarian aid access.

“The United States is making preparations to suspend US-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria ... unless Russia takes immediate steps to end the assault on Aleppo and restore the cessation of hostilities,” Mr Kerry’s spokesman, John Kirby, said.

The M10 and M2 hospitals were hit before dawn on Wednesday, forcing both to shut temporarily, said Adham Sahloul of the Syrian American Medical Society (Sams), which supports both hospitals.

It was unclear who had carried out the bombings, which Mr Ban denounced before the Security Council.

“Those using ever more destructive weapons know exactly what they are doing. They know they are committing war crimes,” he said.

“Imagine the destruction. People with limbs blown off. Children in terrible pain with no relief,” he said. “Imagine a slaughterhouse. This is worse.”

Inside one of the hospitals, patients and medical staff cowered in fear.

“I am in the M2 hospital now. I was inside when the entrance to the emergency room was hit. Three of my colleagues were hurt,” said Aref Al Aref, a medical assistant.

“Everyone is terrified and scared today. We are afraid that we will be today’s victims.”

The head of the White Helmets volunteer rescue force, which operates in opposition-held territory in northern Syria, said that under current conditions civilian facilities in eastern Aleppo would no longer be able to function within a month.

Mr Sahloul, meanwhile, warned that Wednesday’s attacks could have devastating consequences.

“With these two hospitals gone, if today there is another offensive like Saturday or Sunday, this is signing the death warrant for hundreds of people,” he said.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: September 29, 2016 04:00 AM

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