BEIRUT (AP) — Artillery shells fired from government areas hit a major hospital in a rebel-controlled town in northwestern Syria on Sunday, killing at least six patients, including a child, wounding medical staff and forcing the facility to shut its doors, rescuers, an aid group and activists reported.
The shells landed at the entrance and in the courtyard of the hospital in Atareb, a town in rural western Aleppo, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The hospital is located underground, a tactic used by the opposition to avoid targeting in the conflict-prone area.
The Syrian American Medical Society, the aid group which supports the hospital, said three artillery strikes early Sunday caused extensive damage to the hospital, including destroying the orthopedic clinic and knocking out the electric generators on the roof of the hospital.
“The hospital has been evacuated for the moment,” said Fadi Hakim, spokesman for the Syrian American Medical Society, who added that the emergency room has also sustained damage. The aid group said 17 people, including five medical staff, were injured. Four have been evacuated to Turkey for emergency treatment.
Among those killed were a child and a woman, according to the Syrian Civil Defense volunteers, known as the White Helmets. A video posted on the local health directorate’s Facebook page showed debris and blood stains at the entrance of the hospital.
“The medical staff was in a state of panic,” said Omar Halaq, the director of the hospital in Atareb, also known as the Cave.
Attacks on hospitals are common in the Syrian conflict, and are mostly blamed on government and its allied forces.
Government forces knew about the hospital location, because the Syrian American Medical Society had shared its coordinates through the United Nations notification system, said partner aid organization, the International Rescue Committee.
“Health facilities are protected under international law and should be safe havens in times of crisis, but after 10 years of war this is not the case in Syria,” said Rehana Zawar, IRC Country Director for northwest Syria.
This is the 5th attack on health care recorded this year, IRC said, adding that facilities it supports have been attacked 24 times since 2018 alone.
The U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights has documented 598 attacks on at least 350 separate health care facilities in Syria since March 2011, the vast majority of them allegedly committed by the Syrian government and allied forces, including Russia. In the same 10-year period, at least 930 medical personnel were killed, the rights group said.
The government views rebel-held areas as controlled by terrorists.