WASHINGTON (AFP) – Air strikes have hit at least five medical facilities and two schools in northern Syria, killing 50 people, the United Nations said on Monday (Feb 15), calling the attacks “blatant violations of international law.”
The United States also condemned the attacks on civilian targets, which it said included two hospitals in the Aleppo area – a Medecins Sans Frontieres facility and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Aziz city.
The upsurge in violence comes just days after international powers, meeting in Munich, proposed a “cessation of hostilities” within a week as a step towards a permanent ceasefire.
Neither the United States nor the United Nations identified who carried out the air strikes, but Russia has been waging an air campaign in and around Aleppo in support of a Syrian government ground offensive.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said the latest development “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.”
“That the Assad regime and its supporters would continue these attacks, without cause and without sufficient regard for international obligations to safeguard innocent lives, flies in the face of the unanimous calls by the ISSG, including in Munich, to avoid attacks on civilians,” he said.
AFP photos of the MSF hospital hit by an air strike showed it had partially collapsed in the attack. The surrounding area was strewn with twisted metal, cinderblocks and detritus from the damaged building.
“The destruction of the hospital leaves the local population of around 40,000 people without access to medical services in an active zone of conflict,” said MSF Syria operations chief Massimiliano Rebaudengo.
The UN statement indicated the range of civilian targets was far broader, and the death toll much higher, than originally reported from the region.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “deeply concerned by reports that missile attacks on at least five medical facilities and two schools in Aleppo and Idlib that killed close to 50 civilians including children and injured many,” UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
Ban considers that “such attacks are blatant violations of international law,” he added.
The fighting in Syria has intensified despite Friday’s call in Munich for an end to hostilities in a civil war that has killed more than 260,000 people since it began five years ago.
Concern also has been raised by Turkish cross-border shelling of Kurdish-led fighters in Aleppo province and a parallel war of words between Turkey and Russia.
“If Russia continues behaving like a terrorist organisation and forcing civilians to flee, we will deliver an extremely decisive response,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said earlier on Monday.
A 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.
In a statement, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said: “I condemn in the strongest terms the latest deliberate bombardment targeting a hospital supported by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors Without Borders) in northern Syria.” He added that such acts “constitute war crimes”.