By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, Feb 18 – The Medecins Sans Frontieres medical charity called on Thursday for an independent investigation into air strikes that killed 25 people at an MSF-backed hospital in north Syria early this week.
MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders, said the attack was probably carried out by Syrian and Russian forces as part of an offensive. Russian-backed Syrian government troops have been pushing toward the rebel stronghold of Aleppo.
In all at least 50 civilians were killed when missiles hit five medical centres and two schools in rebel-held towns on Monday, the United Nations and residents said.
An MSF-supported hospital in Marat Numan in Idlib province, west of Aleppo, was among those struck repeatedly, killing 9 medical personnel and 16 patients, it said. Ten others were wounded in the attack that destroyed the 30-bed facility.
“According to accounts from medical staff onsite, four missiles struck the hospital in an attack lasting about two minutes. Forty minutes later, after rescuers arrived, the site was bombed again,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of the medical charity.
“This attack can only be considered deliberate. It was probably carried out by the Syrian government-led coalition that is predominantly active in the region,” she told a news briefing.
Accounts from surviving hospital staff led MSF to believe that the government-led coalition had carried out the attack.
“We say a probability because we don’t have more facts than the accounts from our staff,” Liu said, noting that it took time to collect forensic evidence. “The only thing predominantly in the region is the Syrian government-led coalition.”
“We would like the facts to be established, we are open for other mechanisms for an independent investigation,” she said.
MSF said it had not provided the hospital’s GPS coordinates to Syrian or Russian authorities, at the request of local staff.
“In Syria the problem faced by medical staff is if you give GPS (coordinates), you indicate where you are, they think the chance to be targeted is higher,” Isabelle Defourny, director of operations for MSF France, told the briefing.
“It is known that providing humanitarian assistance inside opposition-controlled areas is something which is criminialised by the Syrian government,” she said.