Report: Healthcare under fire in Syria

More than 460 health professionals killed as both government and opposition forces target facilities, rights group says.

Syrian government and opposition forces have systematically attacked healthcare professionals and facilities in the country over the past three years, a report by the US-based group, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), has alleged.

The report released by the human rights group on Wednesday said the attacks had killed more than 460 health professionals and caused widespread damage to hospitals and clinics.

PHR accused the Syrian government of 90 percent of the confirmed 150 attacks on 124 facilities between March 2011 and March 2014.

The organisation has launched an  interactive map  tracking the violations.

“The systematic nature of these attacks reflects the government’s indifference to the health and life of civilians, which has created a public health crisis that will haunt Syria for years,” Erin Gallagher, PHR’s director of emergency investigations and response, said.

“Doctors and nurses who are committed to caring for everyone, regardless of political beliefs, are being killed while trying to save lives under gruelling circumstances.”

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Of the more than 460 civilian health professionals killed during Syria’s civil war, approximately 41 percent of the deaths were caused by shelling and bombings, 31 percent as the result of shootings, and 13 percent due to torture, according to the report.

At least 242,000 people in Syria are living in areas besieged by government or opposition forces, according to the UN, and are cut off from food, water, and medical supplies.

After more than 700 days under siege, people in rebel-held areas of the city of Homs are facing serious health consequences. Only three doctors are currently available in the city to provide treatment, as against an estimated 800 before the war, PHR said. 

“We take great risks to do our jobs at a time when our skills are greatly needed. War has ravaged our country’s health system, and attacking hospitals and doctors has made this horrible situation even worse.” the report quoted a physician in Aleppo province, who did not want to be identified by name for security reasons, as saying.

‘Weapon of war’

As a result of ongoing violence half of the public hospitals have been partially or totally destroyed, forcing people to turn to primitive field hospitals, the report said.

“Syria is among the worst examples of targeting medical care as a weapon of war, and we must not allow these rampant abuses to become the new norm in conflict,” Donna McKay , PHR’s executive director, said.

“The international community has failed civilians in Syria – tens of thousands have died and millions have been displaced. We must demand an end to these blatant human rights violations, provide access to humanitarian aid and services, and hold accountable those responsible for these crimes.” McKay said.

The governorates of Reef Dimashq (Damascus suburb) and Aleppo were reported to have the highest numbers of attacks on medical facilities, with 35 attacks each. Seventy-eight medical personnel have been killed in Reef Dimashq, followed by 77 in Homs, PHR said.

While government forces are responsible for the majority of violations, PHR noted that attacks by anti-government forces are also increasing. Of the total 10 attacks blamed on opposition forces, 9 of them were carried out since March 2013. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies