As toll mounts to 50 in hospital deaths, Ban Ki-moon says such attacks are blatant violations of international law
Beirut : The United Nations and United States condemned suspected Russian air strikes on medical facilities and schools in northern Syria that the world body said killed almost 50 civilians.
Also ahead of a hoped-for ceasefire, Turkey shelled advancing Kurdish fighters in Syria for a third day, as Ankara and Moscow traded accusations over their military entanglement in the conflict.
The United Nations said air strikes on at least five medical facilities and two schools in northern Syria’s Aleppo and Idlib provinces killed nearly 50 civilians including children.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon considers that “such attacks are blatant violations of international law”, added the organisation’s deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.
The United States said air strikes hit two civilian hospitals in and around northern Syria’s Aleppo, identifying them as one run by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and another in the city of Azaz.
“That the (President Bashar al-) Assad regime and its supporters would continue these attacks, without cause and without sufficient regard for international obligations to safeguard innocent lives, flies in the face of the unanimous calls by the ISSG (International Syria Support Group)… to avoid attacks on civilians,” the State Department said.
It said such action “casts doubt on Russia’s willingness and/or ability to help bring to a stop the continued brutality of the Assad regime against its own people”.
The increasing violence on the ground in Syria and war of words between Ankara and Moscow have dampened hopes that a proposed cessation of hostilities will take hold this week.
The UN’s peace envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura was making a surprise visit to Damascus on Tuesday, a government source there said, as world powers push for a ceasefire.
Without assigning blame, MSF confirmed a hospital supported by the charity was hit in Idlib, northwest Syria, and said seven people were killed and at least eight were missing, presumed dead. The air strike devastated the hospital, blasting twisted metal, cinderblocks and other debris into the surrounding area. Turkey, meanwhile, resumed shelling Kurdish-led forces in several parts of Aleppo, alarmed by their recent advances against mostly Islamist rebels. Ankara accuses the Kurdish forces of ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an outlawed movement that has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said at least two children were killed in Monday’s shelling, and an AFP journalist on Turkey’s border said Turkish howitzers fired for around 20 minutes from the Akcabaglar region.
Turkey denounced Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria as “barbaric”, saying the assault had killed civilians including children and the elderly. “Those vile, cruel and barbaric planes have made close to 8,000 sorties since September 30 without any discrimination between civilians and soldiers, or children and the elderly,”
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in parliament.
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Kremlin denies strikes
Russia is not bombing hospitals in Syria, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, calling such reports “unsubstantiated accusations.” “Once again, we categorically reject and do not accept such statements,” he said when asked whether Russian planes bombed hospitals in Syria.
Syrian envoy blames US
The Syrian ambassador to Moscow accused the United States of destroying a hospital backed by the humanitarian group MSF, amid US accusations that Russian air strikes had targeted medical facilities in the war-torn country. Riad Haddad, Syria’s envoy to Russia said that the hospital in Idlib had been hit earlier in a US raid.