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Thursday, 26 April 2018

Why aren’t hospital attacks a red line?


Five-month-old Rukaya being treated for pneumonia at a SAMS-supported hospital in Idlib. Read more.


  • UK to spend £450 million on aid to alleviate suffering in Syria but won’t act to end hospital attacks.
  • UK aid includes blast proofing materials and sandbags to reinforce underground hospitals.
  • UK says Syria strikes were to protect civilians—but allows Assad’s attacks on hospitals to continue.
  • UK keeps evidence secret on Russian air force role in hospital attacks

The UK’s international development minister Penny Mordaunt has announced that the UK will provide at least £450 million this year to alleviate the extreme suffering in Syria. With at least 30,000 people currently injured every month in Syria, the Department for International Development (DFID) expects that around a quarter of this UK aid will be spent on healthcare.

Assad and Putin deliberately and systematically target civilian hospitals as part of their campaign to drive ordinary people out of opposition areas and out of Syria. This is why UK aid includes providing blast proofing materials and sandbags to reinforce underground medical facilities and limit the damage from attacks.

Hospital attacks should be a red line. The UK, US, and France should show the same determination to STOP these attacks on medics as they do to stop chemical attacks.

The UK claimed its response to the Douma chemical massacre was an emergency measure to protect civilians. If that is true, then extend the same protection to Syria’s doctors, nurses, and patients. Don’t just spend money picking up the pieces and reinforcing hospitals against attack.


BRITISH DOCTORS TARGETED BY ASSAD

British doctors have been amongst those targeted by the Assad regime. British surgeon David Nott has described the experience of being in the sights of one of Assad’s pilots and surviving.

Others have not been so lucky. The British doctor Abbas Khan was captured by Assad’s forces and eventually died in a regime prison. The jury at the inquest into his death found that ‘Dr Khan was deliberately and intentionally killed without any legal justification.’

Another British doctor, Isa Abdur Rahman, 26, died in May 2013 in a mortar attack on a hospital in Idlib province. Dr Rahman had left his position with the Royal free Hospital in north London to volunteer with a British charity working in Syria.

In 2016 two Conservative MPs, David Davis and Adam Holloway visited Syria and met Assad. Syria’s dictator gave David Davis a list of 783 people the regime was targeting for assassination. Assad’s ‘kill list’ included the same Dr Isa Abdur Rahman who had been killed in 2013, confirming again that Assad targets doctors.



Eastern Ghouta, March 2018. Photo via SAMS.

HOSPITAL ATTACKS REACH ONE A DAY IN 2018

In the first months of this year, attacks on hospitals and medical facilities escalated to a rate of more than one a day:
  • At least 10 hospitals in rebel-held areas of Syria have suffered direct air or artillery attacks over the past 10 days, aid workers say—BBC News 6 January 2018
  • Attacks on medical facilities ‘jumped to an average of one a day’—NBC News 18 February 2018
  • Thirteen targeted attacks on hospitals in East Ghouta in 48 hours—SAMS 20 February 2018
Physicians for Human Rights counted 492 attacks on medical facilities in Syria up to the end of 2017.

446 of those attacks were by either Assad regime or Russian forces.

Now newly published research suggests the true total number of hospital attacks by Assad and Putin is even higher.

Dr. Rohini Haar, University of California, Berkeley, led a team that collected ground reports of attacks in 2016 in northern Syria, filed by civilians via cellphone text. The data shows a total of 200 health care-related attacks in the governorates of Aleppo, Idleb, Homs and Hama in 2016, an average of more than one attack every other day.

This is over twice the number (90) counted and verified by Physicians for Human Rights in those same areas in the same 2016 period.


RUSSIA IMPLICATED IN MULTIPLE ATTACKS—UK KEEPS EVIDENCE SECRET

A recent report by The Syrian Archive implicated the Russian air force in four hospital attacks in January in Idlib province, Syria. Using data from the aircraft spotters who provide early warning to Syria Civil Defence, the report concluded that Russian aircraft were most likely responsible in each case.

The UK and its military allies are in a position to provide corroborating evidence of Russian responsibility, but choose to keep this evidence secret. As part of the Coalition’s war against ISIS in Syria, NATO’s AWACS aircraft track all military aircraft in Syrian airspace, including Russian and Assad regime war planes.

MPs of several parties have repeatedly asked the Government to find a way to publish radar tracking data relating to hospital attacks and other likely war crimes. When Assad’s air force dropped nerve agent on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017, the US published tracking data to show the regime was responsible, but the same hasn’t been done for any of the hundreds of hospital attacks.

Most recently, Roger Godsiff MP asked the government to look again at “publishing tracking data on Russian violations of the Syrian ceasefire in a form that is compatible with security requirements,” only to once more receive the stock reply that it “would not be appropriate to publish” that kind of information.




RUSSIA OPENS A NEW PROPAGANDA FRONT AGAINST MEDICS

With the UK and its allies unwilling to publish corroborating evidence from aircraft tracking data, medics under fire are dependent on their own reporting and the reporting of other civil society organisations like Syria Civil Defence, AKA The White Helmets.

The White Helmets have been targets of Russian propaganda since 2016 when they helped gather evidence of Russian attacks on a UN aid convoy. Now Russia is beginning to target doctors working in Syria with a similar disinformation campaign, apparently with the aim of undermining the credibility of their evidence in the eyes of the public, and of preparing for further attacks on hospitals and health workers.


WHAT SHOULD THE UK DO?

The UK needs to stand by doctors, nurses, and patients, not just by writing cheques for ever more medical supplies and fortified underground hospitals, but by taking action to stop hospital attacks.

The UK needs to actively defend medics by publishing the evidence on hospital attacks to make the case for sanctioning Russia’s criminal war machine.

The UK needs to take enforcement action against Assad on hospital attacks as it has on chemical attacks.

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