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Syrian and Russian forces 'targeted medical facilities after gas attack'

At least 22 people killed and 17 wounded in air strikes following Khan Sheikhun gas attack, said monitor
Damage caused to a hospital in Khan Sheikhun in the aftermath of the gas attack on 4 April (AFP)

Medical facilities in Syria, including some used to treat victims of gas attacks, were the target of Russian or Syrian air strikes in April, a new report has claimed.

In all eight incidents analysed by the Syrian Archive, a Syrian-led initiative to document war crimes and human rights abuses, written in collaboration with the investigative citizen-journalism website Bellingcat, Syrian and Russia forces were believed to be responsible for the attacks.

At least 22 people were killed and 17 wounded in the attacks, the report’s authors believe, which took place between 2 and 27 April. 

“Findings regarding these attacks were characterised by repeated bombardments, lack of warnings, and an absence of active military hostilities in the vicinity of the attack,” the report concluded.

According to the authors, evidence suggested “that in April 2017 Syrian and Russian armed forces were responsible for the eight attacks on Syrian hospitals and healthcare centres - facilities serving a combined 1.3 million people”.

The report drew on witness testimonies from 14 people at the site of the attacks, flight data from 6,343 flights observations and 75 verified videos of the incidents.

The report suggests an attack on a medical facility treating civilians wounded in the widely reported Khan Sheikhun gas attack, which prompted international condemnation, was carried out by either Russian or Syrian forces.

The gas attack on 4 April killed at least 87 in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun.

A UN watchdog concluded sarin gas was used in the attack, which the US, UK and France blamed on the regime forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

The report also claimed that a medical facility in the town was targeted by Syrian or Russian planes armed with rockets four and half hours after the gas attack, as civilians wounded in the incident sought medical treatment.

Speaking to the report's investigative team, the managing director of the al-Rahma hospital in Khan Sheikhun said: “We were shocked by sustained raids which focused on the hospital yard and its main gate, in addition to the drug store, which was devastated.”

Anas Diyab, who was present at the site immediately after the attack, told the report's investigators that the air strike “aimed to cause a humanitarian catastrophe, and [deny] access to treat those whom were affected by the chemical attack – thus killing as many people as possible”.

Remnants of rockets were found at the site in the aftermath of the attack. The report identified them as Soviet-made S-5M rockets, used by the Syrian air force. Aircraft used by Syrian and Russian forces were observed in the area of the medical facility at the time of the attack, according to the report's authors.

The US launched a retaliatory cruise-missile strike days after the attack which targeted a Syrian air base alleged to have facilitated the attack.

The majority of the medical centres were located in Idlib, the largest area remaining under rebel control after the fall of Aleppo, and the destination for many civilians who fled after the fall of the city to the Syrian government.

Russian forces have been active in Syria supporting the army of Bashar al-Assad since September 2015.

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