Syria civil war: Russia and Assad regime blamed for air strikes that killed two at maternity hospital in Idlib province

Newborn babies and pregnant women were injured in Friday's bombing

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The Independent Online

Medics and civilians in a war-torn province of Syria are trying to rebuild a vital maternity hospital after it was hit by air strikes in the latest attack on health facilities.

Two people were killed in Friday’s bombing, which destroyed part of the building as two operations were underway and a woman went into labour.

Save the Children, which supports the hospital, said six newborn babies were injured when the blast sent their incubators crashing to the floor and a woman who was six months pregnant had her leg severed.

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Babies in their incubators at a maternity hospital in Idlib province that was damaged by an air strike on 29 July (Save the Children)

Two other patients suffered shrapnel wounds to their stomachs and many others were injured in the air strike on Kafr Takhareem, a rural part of rebel-controlled Idlib province.

Photos showed part of the building completely destroyed, leaving piles of rubble in the street and treatment rooms strewn with debris and glass from blown-out windows.

Only the hospital’s A&E department was left functioning and its generator was badly damaged, dangerously reducing the capacity of the only maternity facility of its kind in the area, which serves more than 1,000 women and children every month.

Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria director, said: “Bombing a maternity hospital which is helping women living under the shadow of war to give birth safely is a shameful act, whether it was done intentionally or because due care was not taken to avoid civilian areas. 

“There is no excuse, and unfortunately this is only the latest in a series of strikes on health facilities in Syria. 

“We condemn these attacks, which are illegal under international law, in the strongest possible terms. 

“We need an immediate ceasefire across Syria and an end to the appalling bombing of medical facilities”

Amnesty International blamed Syrian or Russian forces for the strike, saying it fitted a “despicable pattern of unlawful attacks deliberately targeting medical facilities”.

The organisation's Middle East and North Africa Director, Philip Luther, said: “Hospitals, which have special protection under international humanitarian law, should be safe places for mothers, new-born infants and medical workers - even in the midst of a brutal prolonged conflict.

“Syria and Russia must end attacks on hospitals and medical facilities. All such attacks must be investigated and those responsible for serious violations of the laws of war must be brought to justice.”

Authorities in Damascus and Moscow have not commented on the incident and there was no confirmation of who was behind the attack.

It was unclear whether the maternity hospital was the target of the strike or had been damaged accidentally, with a burned-out car seen in the road outside.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a nearby “civil defence building” nearby was also hit.

Idlib province is almost completely under rebel control, including a strong presence of the Jabhat al-Nusra group, which announced its supposed split from al-Qaeda on Thursday.

It claimed it had split from Osama bin Laden’s terror organisation and re-named itself as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of the Levant) in a suspected attempt to garner greater support from moderate rebel groups and international backers.

In another part of the northern Idlib countryside, air strikes killing at least five people and injuring more than 25 were documented on Friday.

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Damage at a Save the Children-supported maternity hospital in Idlib province, Syria, after it was hit by air strikes on 29 July (Save the Children)

The maternity hospital strike came just days after four hospitals and a blood bank in eastern Aleppo were struck in aerial attacks, including a paediatric hospital hit twice in less than 12 hours.

The Physicians for Human Rights group has documented at least 373 attacks on medical facilities, with 750 personnel killed, with vast majority of them alleged to be carried out by Syrian government forces and their allies.

Meanwhile, Syrian activists said an air strike by the US-led coalition killed 28 civilians, including seven children, in the Isis-held village of al-Ghandour, near the Turkish border.

Humanitarian organisations and governments are continuing to raise concerns about besieged towns of Syria and the bombardment of civilian areas, particularly in the divided city of Aleppo.

Russian authorities have promised to open three routes to allow unarmed rebels and civilians to flee after coming under increasing international pressure, but the pledge was met with distrust.

The UN special envoy for Syria urged Russia to leave the creation of any humanitarian corridors around Aleppo to the United Nations and its partners amid fears the plan was a ruse to separate men and boys to be imprisoned or executed.

“That’s our job,” Staffan de Mistura said on Friday. “How do you expect people to walk through a corridor - thousands of them - while there is shelling, bombing, fighting?

”The clock is ticking for the Aleppo population.”

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