Air raids hit four hospitals in Syria's Aleppo

A general view shows the main road after clashes and airstrikes in the area around Aleppo, Syria on July 23, 2016.
A general view shows the main road after clashes and airstrikes in the area around Aleppo, Syria on July 23, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

BEIRUT (AFP) - Air raids have hit four makeshift hospitals in Syria's battered Aleppo city, doctors said on Sunday (July 24), jeopardising medical care for more than 200,000 desperate civilians in rebel-held areas.

The bombardment since Saturday has worsened the plight of residents of besieged eastern neighbourhoods of Syria's second city, where food and medical supplies are becoming increasingly scarce.

The hospitals, as well as a blood bank that was hit, were located in the Al-Shaar neighbourhood, said the Independent Doctor's Association (IDA), a group of Syrian doctors that supports clinics in Aleppo.

It said a two-day-old baby was killed in the children's hospital when his oxygen supply was cut after a raid during the early hours of Sunday.

It was the second strike on the same hospital in about nine hours, according to the IDA.

"After the second strike, we had to move him (the baby) downstairs to the bomb shelter, and that's why he died," said Ms Malika, the head nurse at the children's hospital.

"The hospital is severely damaged and it's not the first time," she said, in online conversations with IDA representatives seen by AFP.

Footage posted by the IDA of the strike's aftermath showed agitated doctors carrying a tiny baby in a room lined with incubators, with sandbags piled high just outside the entrance.

All four hospitals were out of service on Sunday.

Opposition-controlled areas of Aleppo are regularly hit by air strikes by the regime and its key ally Russia.

According to the World Health Organisation, Syria was the most dangerous place for health care workers to operate last year, with 135 attacks on health facilities and workers in 2015.

An AFP journalist in eastern Aleppo said heavy air strikes had resumed after a brief pause on Sunday morning.

The streets were empty except for ambulances speeding to the site of fresh bombing raids with their sirens wailing.

According to the IDA, five hospitals are left operating in eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo city, devastated by a regime siege that took hold earlier this month.

"In addition to the siege-like conditions being endured by the residents of Aleppo after the last supply line was cut earlier this month, we are facing a major humanitarian disaster with medical care suspended," the group said.

"Besiegement and the decimation of health care constitute war crimes. We demand an immediate end to and accountability for the collective punishment the city faces."

Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with anti-government protests across the country but has since morphed into a complex multi-front war.

At least 280,000 people have been killed and more than half the population have been forced to flee their homes, as world powers are increasingly drawn into the conflict.

Repeated attempts - particularly by the United States and regime ally Russia - at securing a political settlement built on a teetering ceasefire have failed.

Moscow and Washington are nominally co-chairs of international efforts to bring President Bashar al-Assad's regime to the negotiating table with armed opposition groups.

The UN has set August as the target date for the resumption of talks.

On Sunday, the foreign ministry in Damascus said Syria "is ready to continue the Syrian-Syrian dialogue without any preconditions, in the hopes that this dialogue will lead to a comprehensive solution".

The statement, carried by state news agency SANA and quoting an anonymous foreign ministry official, also said Syria would be "ready to coordinate air operations against terrorism as part of the agreement between Russia and the United States". Moscow has sought to work with Washington on military action against the jihadists of the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

The US-led coalition has carried out air strikes against IS since September 2014, and Russia began its own bombing campaign in support of Assad's forces a year later.

US Secretary of State John Kerry held marathon meetings last week with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

They struck an agreement on "concrete steps" to salvage the failing truce and fight jihadist factions, but did not announce details.

Kerry and Lavrov are expected to meet again on the sidelines of a Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meeting in Laos this week.