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UN Human Rights Office Condemns Attacks on Syria Hospitals, School

  • Lisa Schlein

People and Civil Defense members carry a dead body removed from a destroyed Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) supported hospital hit by missiles in Marat Numan, Idlib province, Syria, Feb. 16, 2016.

People and Civil Defense members carry a dead body removed from a destroyed Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) supported hospital hit by missiles in Marat Numan, Idlib province, Syria, Feb. 16, 2016.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned airstrikes on at least four hospitals and a school Monday in northern Syria. He says if intentional, these attacks could amount to war crimes.

The United Nations reports scores of people were killed and many more injured in the aerial attacks, which have been widely blamed on Syria's government and its ally, Russia.

Four missiles reportedly hit one of the hospitals, run by the charity Doctors Without Borders. Additionally, another facility, a mother-and-child hospital supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund, was struck with heavy loss of life in the bombardment. This hospital had previously come under attack on December 25.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville told VOA he did not know whether attacks against medical facilities and personnel have increased since Russia began bombing what it said were terrorist targets in Syria.

“It is a bit hard to judge motivation like that; but, the sheer scale of these attacks would suggest it could well be a tactic of war... So, this apparent, at least partial targeting of hospitals, it is very difficult to tell if an individual event, immediately whether it is a deliberate targeting, obviously; but, the situation is just quite atrocious,” he said.

The ruins of a hospital in Idlib province in northern Syria are seen in this image provided by Doctors Without Borders, Feb. 15, 2016.

The ruins of a hospital in Idlib province in northern Syria are seen in this image provided by Doctors Without Borders, Feb. 15, 2016.

Colville said it was not clear whether these hospital facilities were intentionally targeted.

“The sheer number of incidents raises huge question marks about the failure of the parties to the conflict in Syria to respect the special protections afforded to medical facilities and personnel under international humanitarian law.

Depending on the circumstances, an airstrike on a hospital may constitute a war crime,” he said.

Since the Syrian conflict began almost five years ago, the World Health Organization reports nearly 700 health workers have been killed and that an estimated 60 percent of public hospitals and 49 percent of primary health centers have become either partially or completely non-functional.

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