Airstrikes hit two hospitals and a school in northern Syria, killing and wounding dozens of people on Monday, according to opposition activists, who said the strikes were carried out by Russian warplanes supporting a major advance by government troops.
An airstrike in the province of Idlib destroyed a makeshift clinic supported by the international aid group Doctors Without Borders, while in the neighboring Aleppo province, a missile struck a children’s hospital in the town of Azaz, killing at least five people and wounding dozens. A third air raid hit a school in a nearby village, killing seven and wounding others.
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 aid group said the hospital had 30 beds, 54 staff members, two operating theaters, an outpatient 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.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian warplanes targeted the makeshift hospital, destroying it and killing nine people. The Observatory, which tracks the casualties in Syria’s five-year civil war, said dozens were also wounded in the attack.
Over the past week, Syrian troops have been on the offensive in the country’s north under the cover of Russian air strikes. The ground offensive has been focused on the northern province of Aleppo while Monday’s air strike 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 missile attack in Azaz near the Turkish border, five were killed at the hospital and more than 30 were wounded, the Observatory said. Activist Bahaa al-Halaby, who is based in the northern city of Aleppo, says it was a ballistic missile, adding that it killed 10. The Observatory said the dead include three children and an expectant woman.
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, including 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, [were] sitting around the table [and]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.