December 01, 2015

BRUSSELS — Seven people were killed and a hospital supported by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was partially destroyed in a series of barrel bomb attacks in Syria's Homs region on November 28, the organization said today. 

The series of bombings occurred in Al Zafarana town, a besieged zone in northern Homs governorate where local medical workers at the Al Zafarana hospital received an influx of 47 wounded patients. Half of the wounded — 23 out of 47 people — were women and children under 15 years old. As the bombings continued and caused damage to the hospital, many of these patients had to be moved to other hospitals and five people died in transit. 

The attacks began at approximately 9:40 a.m. local time on Saturday, November 28, when a barrel bomb was dropped from a helicopter on a populated area of Al Zafarana town, killing a man and a young girl, and wounding 16 people. These patients were admitted to the Al Zafarana hospital in the mass casualty influx.

Soon afterward, another barrel bomb landed next to the hospital, causing damage to the kidney dialysis unit. Then 40 minutes later, at around 10:30 a.m. local time, when the wounded from the first bomb were being treated in the hospital, two more barrel bombs were dropped very close to the front entrance, killing one bystander and wounding 31 of the patients under treatment and medical staff, including two paramedics working for the Syrian Civil Defense ambulance service, one of whom sustained critically serious head injuries. This blast also caused partial destruction of the hospital.

"This bombing shows all the signs of a double-tap, where one area is bombed and then a second bombing hits the paramedic response teams or the nearest hospital providing care," said Brice de le Vingne, director of operations for MSF.  "This double-tap tactic shows a level of calculated destruction that can scarcely be imagined."

The most critically wounded patients were transferred to three nearby hospitals. The 16 from the initial influx were immediately sent to one hospital. A second facility received 21 injured and four patients who died on the journey, and the third facility received 10 injured, with one person dead-on-arrival.

It is unclear at this stage whether the hospital will be able to resume activities after the bombing. Sections of the outside wall have been blown in by the blast and the dialysis unit and part of the medical stock have been destroyed. MSF is offering support to repair or relocate the facility, and is preparing to send the hospital team essential medical supplies should it be possible for them to continue operating.

"This makeshift hospital was providing a lifeline of care to around 40,000 people in Al Zafarana town and the surroundings," said de le Vingne. "It is already a tragedy that seven people —  including a small girl — have been killed, but if the hospital has to close down or reduce activities, that is a double tragedy for the people living under the permanent threat of war, with nowhere else to turn for medical assistance." 

MSF once again reiterates its call that all efforts should be taken by all parties to the Syrian war to avoid striking civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and ambulances. The multiplication of these atrocious attacks, with overwhelmingly high numbers of civilians wounded or killed, including women, children and medical staff, must cease.

MSF operates six medical facilities in the north of Syria and directly supports more than 150 health posts and field hospitals throughout the country, with a particular focus on the besieged areas. As in Al Zafarana, these are mostly makeshift facilities with no MSF staff present, where MSF provides both material support and distance training support to help the Syrian medics cope with the extreme medical needs. This support network has been built up over the past four years.

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