Syria: Deadly Airstrikes Damage Hospital Supported by MSF in Idlib

SOUTH SUDAN © Valérie Batselaere/MSF

AMMAN, JORDAN/NEW YORK, JANUARY 29, 2018—Two airstrikes hit a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Syria's Idlib governorate today, causing deaths and injuries and seriously damaging the facility, according to the hospital manager, who contacted MSF.

The 18-bed Owdai Hospital (also known as Al Ihsan Hospital) is the only public hospital in Saraqab District in the eastern Idlib countryside, serving a population of 50,000. Prior to the attack, the hospital had an emergency room and outpatient department and provided general and trauma surgery, performing an average of 3,800 medical consultations per month.

MSF provides medicines and supplies to the hospital's emergency department but does not have staff in the facility.

The airstrikes on Owdai Hospital occurred at about 10:20 a.m. local time while the hospital was receiving people injured in an airstrike that hit Saraqab's main market about an hour earlier, which also killed 11 people, according to the hospital manager.

The attack on the hospital itself resulted in at least five deaths, including a child, and injuries to at least six people, including three medical staff, the hospital manager said. Other medical staff said a first strike hit the hospital waiting room and a second hit an area in front of the hospital, destroying a parked ambulance.

"This latest incident demonstrates the brutality with which health care is coming under attack in Syria," said Luis Montiel, MSF head of mission in northern Syria. "The fact that this attack occurred on a facility while it was treating incoming patients is particularly egregious and a clear violation of international humanitarian law."

The airstrikes today came after another airstrike damaged Owdai Hospital on January 21. That strike landed in a vacant area near the hospital entrance, blowing out hospital windows and damaging its electrical generators, forcing it to close for three days.

Owdai Hospital has now closed indefinitely, while medical needs in the area are expected to increase due to the massive displacement of Syrians fleeing fresh violence in Idlib's eastern countryside and northeast Hama. Tens of thousands of families have fled north toward the Turkish border and districts north of Idlib and in the west Aleppo countryside. They are living in overcrowded tents or makeshift shelters in frigid winter conditions.

"While clearly banned by international humanitarian law, attacks on medical facilities remains common in Syria, and health services are severely impacted by these attacks," Montiel said. "The loss of Owdai Hospital will have a significant impact on people already in distress."

In 2016, 32 MSF-supported medical facilities in Syria were bombed or shelled on 71 occasions. In 2015, MSF documented 94 attacks on 63 MSF-supported hospitals and clinics in Syria.

MSF directly operates five health facilities and three mobile clinic teams in northern Syria, has partnerships with five facilities, and provides distance support to about 50 health facilities countrywide in areas where MSF teams cannot be directly present. No MSF staff are present in supported facilities. MSF’s activities in Syria do not include areas controlled by the Islamic State group since no assurances about safety and impartiality have been obtained from their leadership, nor can MSF work in government-controlled areas since MSF’s requests for permission to date have not resulted in any access. To ensure independence from political pressures, MSF receives no government funding for its work in Syria.

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