Attacks on Syrian medical facilities on the rise, WHO says

Attacks on Syrian medical facilities on the rise, WHO says

Attacks on Syrian health care facilities have spiked in recent weeks, the World Health Organization said Friday, mostly in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus, where the Syrian government has been carrying out a ground and air assault since last month.

The organization has counted 67 attacks on medical units so far in 2018 — roughly half as many as all of last year, according to WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier.

In 2017, WHO counted 112 attacks on Syrian health care facilities and medical workers.

“Health workers and health facilities are not a target. It has to stop,” Lindmeier said in a statement.

More than 1,000 people — an average of 71 per day — were killed in Eastern Ghouta in the first two weeks of the Syrian government offensive that began February 18, the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières, said this week.

In addition to the dead, medical facilities supported by the humanitarian organization received an average of 344 wounded people every day in Eastern Ghouta in the same time period, said Jonathan Whittal, MSF’s director of the analysis department.

“Imagine that emergency room under incessant bombing and shelling. Add to that supplies running out. … (N)ow imagine a mass casualty arriving into that emergency room. Now imagine 344 wounded on average per day. Every day. For two weeks,” Whittall wrote in an email Friday to CNN.

MSF collects its data from 20 medical facilities to which the organization provides full or partial support. Asked about widespread activist reports of attacks using chlorine, white phosphorus and incendiary weapons, Whittall said MSF has received reports of their use but could not confirm or refute the allegations.

“What is certain is that the people of Syria are being subjected to endless cycles of violence where the backers of warring parties repeatedly choose to be powerless in the protection of civilians,” Whittall said.

On Friday, UN refugee agency chief Filippo Grandi blasted the United Nations for having “failed spectacularly” to protect Eastern Ghouta’s civilians.

“The UN as an institution, meaning the Security Council, the member states of the UN, have failed spectacularly. On that I have no hesitation to stress. Unfortunately, not just in Syria — but in Syria it has been particularly severe, this failure,” said Grandi, responding to a question at a news conference Friday in Beirut.

The Security Council voted unanimously in favor of a 30-day ceasefire in Syria on February 24, but the fighting has continued. Both the council and Russian President Vladimir Putin urged a pause in fighting to allow civilians to leave, but both calls were ignored. Rebel fighters in Eastern Ghouta and Syrian government forces have accused each other of breaking the truce.

Second convoy arrives amid shelling

Aid trucks entered Eastern Ghouta’s main town of Douma on Friday for a second time since the start of the government assault.

Shelling continued within earshot of the aid trucks, according to International Committee of the Red Cross Syria spokeswoman Ingy Sedky.

But 13 aid-filled trucks were offloaded in Douma despite the shelling. The trucks carried 2,400 food parcels for 12,000 people, along with 3,240 bags of wheat flour.

All aid teams are now out of Ghouta, according to Iolanda Jaquemet, another ICRC spokeswoman.

“We do hope to have a larger convoy very, very soon, which will also contain medical material and medicine. It’s very urgent,” she said.

The trucks were delivering materials that aid workers said couldn’t be offloaded from a first convoy earlier this week, the ICRC said.

The first convoy was intended for 70,000 people in Douma, far less than the broader suburb’s besieged population of 393,000. Humanitarian workers said shelling broke out as they delivered aid Monday, and they had to leave before completing the delivery.

“We delivered as much as we could amidst shelling. Civilians are caught in a tragic situation,” Sajjad Malik, the UN refugee agency representative in Syria, said in a tweet.

Humanitarian teams are also preparing medical supplies for delivery next week, though “that remains to be seen,” Jaquemet said. Before the first delivery this month, Syrian authorities stripped aid vehicles of much-needed medical supplies.