Russian warplanes are being blamed for carrying out what is being called a “deliberate attack” on two makeshift hospitals in northern Syria Monday that left several people killed or wounded, and at least eight staff members presumed dead.
Doctors Without Borders — also known by its French acronym MSF — said in a statement that the hospital in the town of Maaret al-Numan was hit four times in at least two attacks that were minutes apart. It said at least seven people were killed and at least eight others were “missing, presumed dead.”
“This appears to be a deliberate attack on a health structure, and we condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms,” said Massimiliano Rebaudengo, MSF’s mission chief. “The destruction of the hospital leaves the local population of around 40,000 people without access to medical services in an active zone of conflict.”
The group said eight staff members that were missing following the attack are now presumed dead. It also said five patients were killed, as well as a caretaker and a hospital guard, and additional patients are missing.
— أطباء بلا حدود سوريا (@MSF_Syria) February 15, 2016
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack was carried out by Russian warplanes. The Observatory, which tracks the casualties in Syria’s five-year civil war, said nine people were killed, including a nurse and eight civilians, and dozens were also wounded.
The airstrikes came as the White House confirmed the President Obama had spoken Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling on Russia to play “a constructive role by ceasing its air campaign against moderate opposition forces in Syria.”
U.S. Military Spokesman Col. Steve Warren, on Twitter, said the destruction of the Doctors Without Borders hospital was “terrible news.”
He added that the only U.S. coalition-led airstrikes carried out in Syria Monday were in the cities of Raqqa and Hasakah
The aid group said the hospital had 30 beds, 54 staff members, two operating theatres, an outpatients department and an emergency room. The statement added that MSF has been supporting the hospital since September and covered all its needs, including providing medical supplies and running costs.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev issued a blanket denial over the weekend that Moscow was targeting civilians and civilian facilities within Syria, The Guardian reports.
But since the start of the Russian campaign that launched in October, the NGO Physicians for Human Rights documented seven Russian attacks on medical facilities in Syria, according to the newspaper.
Last week, MSF said at least 13 health facilities in Syria have been attacked this year alone.
— MSF International (@MSF) February 15, 2016
Syrian troops have been on the offensive over the past week in the country’s north under the cover of Russian airstrikes. The ground offensive has been focused on the northern province of Aleppo while Monday’s airstrike struck the clinic in the nearby Idlib province.
“The entire building has collapsed on the ground,” said opposition activist Yahya al-Sobeih, speaking by telephone from Maaret al-Numan. He added that five people were killed near the clinic and “all members of the medical team inside are believed to be dead.”
Paramedics and volunteers were now working on removing the rubble, he added. The four-story building once was a cement company but had served as a makeshift clinic during the war, said al-Sobeih.
In the neighboring Aleppo province, a missile struck a children’s hospital in the town of Azaz. And, in a nearby village, an air raid hit a school, killing seven and wounding others.
The missile attack in Azaz, near the Turkish border, killed five people at the hospital, including three children and a pregnant woman, and wounded more than 30, the Observatory said. Activist Bahaa al-Halaby, who is based in the northern city of Aleppo, said the hospital was struck by a missile, and that 10 people were killed.
Abdulrahman Al-Hassan, chief liaison officer at the Syrian Civil Defense, a group of first responders known as the “White Helmets,” said the women’s hospital in Azaz was hit by two surface-to-surface missiles.
“We think it is Russia because the photos of the missiles have Russian language (and) because we haven’t seen this kind (of missiles) before the Russian intervention,” he said.
In Turkey, the private Dogan news agency reported that more than 30 of those wounded in Russian air strikes in Azaz, primarily children, were transferred to a hospital in southern Turkey. It showed footage of ambulances arriving at the Kilis State hospital and medical personnel unloading children on stretchers and a girl wrapped in a blanket as well as a handful of adults
“They hit the school, they hit the school,” wailed a Syrian woman who was unloaded from an ambulance onto a wheelchair.
The Observatory and al-Halaby also reported an air raid on the village of Kaljibrin near Azaz. Al-Halaby said the air raid hit a school, killing seven and wounding others while the Observatory said five were killed.
Meanwhile in Brussels, European Union officials on Monday called on Turkey to halt its military action in Syria after Turkish forces shelled positions held by a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia over the weekend.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said that “only a few days ago, all of us including Turkey, sitting around the table decided steps to de-escalate and have a cessation of hostilities.”
She said more fighting “is obviously not what we expect.”
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said “we have the plan for a cessation of hostilities and I think everybody has to abide by that.”
Syria’s main Kurdish faction, the People’s Protection Units, has been most effective in combating the Islamic State group, but Turkey appears uneasy over the group’s recent gains.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.