Civilians and medical staff have been killed by strikes as medical staff say the hospital in Sarmin is the most dangerous place to be
On Tuesday, bombs struck it for the eleventh time, shattering the walls and killing twelve civilians. Yet this attack was different, witnesses said, coming not from the regime as before but from its ally, Russia.
“When the regime strikes, we hear the plane and we know what is coming,” Dr Mohammed Tennari, the hospital’s director, told The Telegraph. “This time there was nothing, just silence and then an explosion.”
Doctors, rescue teams and international observers have documented at least seven Russian attacks on hospitals, clinics and other health facilities since Moscow’s jets joined Syria’s crowded skies on September 30.
President Vladimir Putin said they are attacking Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), but air strikes have mostly targeted other rebel groups fighting against the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. The medical facilities hit have been in non-Isil areas of Idlib, Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.
The air strikes sometimes come in twos, first hitting a clinic, and then those who come to save the wounded. On Tuesday, a member of Sarmin’s local rescue brigade, Abdel Razzak Abboud, was killed.
Mr Abboud had married the widow of his brother, also killed in the war, only weeks before, upholding a promise to keep the family safe. “When people went to offer their condolences, there was no one to give them to,” said Majd, a member of Idlib’s White Helmets rescue brigade.
Dr Tennari’s team also lost two colleagues. “We don’t know what to do anymore,” he said. “If we sit down on the ground, we feel like a clock is ticking and the ground must soon explode.”
Jabhat al Nusra: Al Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al Nusra, is one of the most powerful armed groups in Syria.
Jaish al-Fateh: A coalition of seven rebel groups, dominated by Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al Sham, a more moderate Islamist group. The two enjoy an uneasy relationship.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant: The brutal extremist group which has established what it describes as an ‘Islamic Caliphate’ across swathes of Iraq and Syria.
Tajammu al-Izzah: A rebel group apparently targeted by Russian airstrikes in northern Hama at the end of September 2015. Aligned with the relatively moderate Free Syrian Army and thought to be part of a CIA-backed training programme.
Free Syrian Army: This group of largely moderate fighters who initially dominated Syria’s uprising. Often marginalised by more radical groups, but an important presence in the south and parts of the north.
The Russian defence ministry maintained that air strikes are conducted with precise, guided munitions. Experts said that while Moscow has used some of its most advanced weapons systems during its latest involvement in the conflict, only a minority of its ordnance has been “smart” or precision-guided.
“Any deliberate attack on a hospital is a war crime,” said Widney Brown, director of programmes at Physicians for Human Rights, a New York-based organisation. “Syria may be the only country in the world where the Red Crescent, rather than being a shield against attacks, is a target for attacks.”
Sarmin’s hospital has been forced to close indefinitely, leaving civilians with few options for treatment when the next missiles strike. Staff had already been faced with some of the most devastating attacks of Syria’s war. In March, it was the lead treatment centre in the aftermath of a massive chlorine attack launched by the regime.
Syria’s doctors feel “utterly abandoned” by the international community, Ms Brown said.
Physicians for Human Rights documented 313 attacks on medical facilities and the deaths of 679 medical personnel between the beginning of Syria’s rebellion in March 2011 and the end of August 2015.
According to Airwars, a group monitoring air strikes in Iraq and Syria, the US-led anti-Isil coalition also faces ten allegations regarding attacks on health facilities in Iraq and Syria.
Only two of these are known to have been investigated by US Central Command.
How Telegraph exposed Assad’s chemical weapons use:
“We welcome the engagement on Russian fatalities and criticism of its bombing of civilians, but if the coalition wants to demonstrate that it is doing things differently and take a moral stance, then it has to be more transparent,” said Chris Woods, the director of Airwars.
Bashar al-Assad’s Profile:
Role: President of Syria
Born: September 11 1965, Damascus
Education: Studied medicine at University of Damascus and graduated in 1988 as an opthamologist
Early career: In 1992 moved to London to continue his studies, after serving as an army doctor at Damascus military hospital.
Two years later, after the death of brother Basil, he returned to Syria and trained at a military academy. He soon attained the rank of colonel in the Republican Guard
Time in office: President since 2000.
Presided over armed response to protests in 2011; a conflict that worsened into the civil war which has killed more than 250,000 people