New study finds ambulances 'repeatedly targeted' in Syria conflict
Ambulances have been intentionally and repeatedly targeted in Syria, researchers have said, calling for more efforts to protect medical workers caught up in the conflict.
The research, published in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ Global Health, analysed reports of 243 attacks on ambulances in 2016 and 2017 and found more than half were deliberately targeted.
"There is no ambiguity in the results: ambulances are directly and repeatedly targeted in Syria," Hayes Wong, one of the two US-based authors of the report, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Tuesday.
The attacks studied were mostly in opposition-held enclaves in and around Aleppo, Idlib and Damascus, and nearly 90 percent were carried out by Syrian government forces and their Russian allies, the paper said.
There have been repeated reports of attacks on medical workers and healthcare facilities during Syria's seven-year conflict, even though both are protected by international law.
Among the most prominent medical workers in Syria are the Syrian Civil Defence or "White Helmet" search and rescue volunteers.
Famous for dramatic pictures of rescue workers pulling bloodied children from the scenes of government bombings, the group has received $50m in aid and training from the UK and $33m from the US, among other countries, but say they are independent.
The US administration of President Donald Trump froze aid to the White Helmets in May.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his backers describe them as tools of Western propaganda and "radical" fighters in disguise.
Paramedics on ambulances are particularly vulnerable to attack as they are highly visible and can be targeted as they attend to casualties in the aftermath of an attack, according to the research paper.
Almost half the ambulances that were attacked were severely damaged or destroyed, potentially hampering efforts to help those injured, researchers said.
The paper also highlighted the use of so-called "double-tap" attacks, where a location is bombed twice within a short period of time, with the aim of striking emergency workers as they respond to the initial attack.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the report highlighted the dangers to health workers in Syria.
"WHO reiterates its call to all parties to Syrian conflict to remember their humanity, abide by their legal obligations under international humanitarian law, and respect the sanctity and safety of health facilities and health workers," spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The WHO said so far this year 97 health workers were killed in 137 attacks in Syria, according to reports collated by its monitoring tool for attacks on health care. It does not collect data on who is responsible.