BEIRUT: Fifty doctors, including three Nobel Prize winners, Monday called on both sides of the Syrian conflict to halt all attacks on medical staff and facilities, which they said were being deliberately targeted.
The comments were made in a letter published in the medical journal “The Lancet,” where the doctors warned medical infrastructure was on the point of collapse:
“According to WHO, 37 percent of Syrian hospitals have been destroyed and a further 20 percent severely damaged. Makeshift clinics have become fully fledged trauma centers struggling to cope with the injured and sick.”
Before the civil war broke out, there were 5,000 doctors in Aleppo, today there are just 36, the letter adds.
The letter warned: “We must not let considerations of military intervention destroy our ability to focus on getting them help.”
Lancet editor Richard Horton told The Daily Star that the letter was directed not just at the warring sides, but at the international community.
In weekend talks between the U.S. and Russia, which led to an eleventh-hour deal and the Syrian regime agreeing to destroy its chemical weapons, the urgent issue of humanitarian access on the ground should have also been discussed, he said.
The letter also stated that medical sites were being deliberately hit:
“The targeted attacks on medical facilities and personnel are deliberate and systematic, not an inevitable nor acceptable consequence of armed conflict. Such attacks are an unconscionable betrayal of the principle of medical neutrality.”
It added: “We call on all armed parties to respect the proper functions of medical professionals and medical neutrality by allowing medical professionals to treat anyone in need of medical care and not interfering with the proper operation of health care facilities.
“Governments that support parties to this civil war should demand that all armed actors immediately halt attacks on medical personnel, facilities, patients, and medical supplies and allow medical supplies and care to reach Syrians, whether crossing front lines or across Syria’s borders.”
U.N. Human Rights investigator Paulo Pinheiro said Monday that an incendiary bomb dropped from a government warplane on a school in the Aleppo countryside on Aug. 26 killed at least eight students, with 50 more suffering horrific burns.
Syria’s Ambassador to the U.N. Faysal Hamoui Khabbaz rejected the report and accused the inquiry of “continuing politicizing and exaggeration.”
He denied the inquiry’s earlier charge that the government had bombed hospitals, adding: “There is no country that would destroy its own infrastructure.”