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Kerry Blames Assad Regime for Deadly Attack on Syrian Kids' Hospital

In this April 24, 2016, file photo made from video posted by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, a man helps an injured man as others stand in rubble after airstrikes and shelling hit Aleppo, Syria. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP video)
In this April 24, 2016, file photo made from video posted by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, a man helps an injured man as others stand in rubble after airstrikes and shelling hit Aleppo, Syria. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP video)

Syria and Russia denied responsibility Thursday for a devastating airstrike on a pediatric hospital in Aleppo supported by Doctors Without Borders that killed at least 50 and left the so-called "cessation of hostilities" in shreds.

The strike Wednesday night against "yet another medical facility in Syria" destroyed a vital hospital in the northern city of Aleppo and "the main referral center for pediatric care in the area," said Muskilda Zancada, head of the Syria mission for the Medicins Sans Frontiere (Doctors Without Borders) medical group.

Zancada asked, "Where is the outrage among those with the power and obligation to stop this carnage?" Pablo Marco, operations manager for MSF in the Middle East, told CNN that at least six of those killed were hospital staff -- two doctors, two nurses, one guard and one maintenance worker.

The United Nations and humanitarian groups have estimated that more than 300,000 have been killed in the five-year-old Syrian civil war.

In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry blamed the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad for the airstrike that reportedly came from a missile launched by a warplane.

"We are outraged by yesterday's airstrikes in Aleppo on the al Quds hospital supported by both Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which killed dozens of people, including children, patients and medical personnel," Kerry said.

"It appears to have been a deliberate strike on a known medical facility and follows the Assad regime's appalling record of striking such facilities and first responders. These strikes have killed hundreds of innocent Syrians," Kerry said.

Syria's state-run SANA news carried an official statement denying that Syrian government forces were involved and the Russian Defense Ministry also denied responsibility for the airstrike.

The U.S. military has repeatedly said that its air campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has not struck near Aleppo and has previously condemned "indiscriminate" bombing by the Russians.

In attacks in early February, Russian airstrikes reportedly hit hospitals and schools, killing more than 50. Tim Shenk, a spokesman for MSF in New York, said at the time that the estimated death toll for an airstrike on one of the hospitals supported by the group in northern Syria had more than doubled to 25.

World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told Turkey's Anadolu news agency that "since the beginning of the conflict, almost 700 health workers have been killed and an estimated 58 percent of public hospitals and 49 percent of primary health centers are either only partially functional or have closed."

Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said in a Pentagon briefing from Baghdad at the time, "We know the Russians and Syrian regime frankly conducted strikes in areas where those hospitals and schools were hit." He also said that the Syrians were using "barrel bombs" dropped from helicopters.

In late January, Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special envoy for Syria, won agreement from 17 nations, including the U.S., Iran and Russia, for a "cessation of hostilities" in Syria but the agreement has been falling apart amid stepped up attacks by the Syrians and Russians and the withdrawal from negotiations of a main rebel group.

In Geneva Thursday, de Mistura said he hoped to begin another round of talks next month but said the ceasefire must be "revitalized" before then. He asked "How can you have substantial talks when you have only news about bombing and shelling?"

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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