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WHO reports surge in attacks on medical targets in Syria

Abdullah Hammam, AFP | An ambulance in Eastern Ghouta, Syria on March 7, 2018.

The frequency of attacks on medical facilities in Syria spiked through the first two months of the year, far outpacing last year's rate, the World Health Organisation said Friday.

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Through January and February the United Nations health agency's monitoring mechanism verified 67 attacks that hit medical targets, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva.

He added that 112 such attacks were recorded in all of 2017.

Nearly half of the strikes on medical facilities this year were recorded in Eastern Ghouta, where the government is waging a devastating offensive to retake an area it lost in 2013. Its bombing campaign in the area has killed 948 civilians, including 195 children, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.

The facilities hit include 20 hospitals, 16 health facilities, two ambulance stations and one medical supply warehouse.

The attacks have “a devastating impact”, said Lindmeier. “We estimate that, in February, these attacks prevented nearly 1,500 surgical operations and 15,000 medical consultations, many of which could have saved lives.”

Meanwhile, the NGO Medicins Sans Frontieres is rethinking its plans to send medical equipment into Eastern Ghouta, because it would be too dangerous, according to UN humanitarian co-ordinator Ali al-Zataari.

"The situation has got worse every day" - Mohammed al-Mahroum, doctor inside Eastern Ghouta

‘The situation has got worse every day’

Lindmeier said the WHO was not in a position to assign blame for any specific strike but warned that targeting medical facilities was illegal.

"Medical facilities and medical personal have special protection under international humanitarian law," he said.

"WHO calls all parties in Syria to immediately halt attacks on medical and humanitarian personal, their means of transport and equipments as well as hospitals and medical facilities."

These attacks add to an already difficult situation for doctors in Eastern Ghouta.

“For about two years, we didn’t have any new tools or medications, because there was no way to enter Ghouta from the areas around us,” Mohammed al-Mahroum, a doctor in the besieged enclave, told FRANCE 24. “Day by day, we lose a lot of medication that we’d stored before – and the situation has got worse every day.”

“The people injured by the shelling or the chlorine [gas] attack, we try to treat here with the medication we have here. Not all of the patients can survive,” al-Mahroum said.

On Friday, an aid convoy managed to cross into the embattled rebel-held suburb, delivering desperately needed aid despite heavy fighting," said the International Committee of the Red Cross.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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