BEIRUT: The overwhelming majority of attacks on hospitals and medical staff have been carried out by the Syrian government, the U.S.-based NGO Physicians for Human Rights said Wednesday.
Of the 150 attacks on 124 facilities that it has documented between March 2011 and March 2014, 90 percent have been carried out by the regime of President Bashar Assad, PHR said.
“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 in a statement to coincide with the release of an interactive map of said attacks, which will continually be updated.
“Doctors and nurses who are committed to caring for everyone, regardless of political beliefs, are being killed while trying to save lives under grueling circumstances.”
Speaking to The Daily Star, Gallagher said it was clear the regime was deliberately targeting medical facilities. “I would say that the majority of the 150 attacks were targeted. Either they are hit multiple times ... or Syrian news agencies themselves admit that hospitals have been hit.”
Often, she said, they are in remote areas, meaning that they could not be considered to be in the vicinity of a rebel military position, or they were in densely populated civilian areas and were targeted deliberately.
Since the war began, over 460 medical professionals have been killed, the statement added.
On the possible motives behind such attacks, Gallagher said it was likely a two-fold approach: to both weaken opposition to the regime, and terrorize local communities and drive them out of certain areas.
The attacks on medical personnel, she said, were likely because, “I think they consider medical personnel to be traitors and part of the opposition.”
In other recent conflicts, Gallagher said, medical personnel have been targeted, such as in Cambodia, or hospitals and centers have been attacked, as in Bosnia, but the Syrian conflict was rare, she said, in that both were being targeted.
The sheer volume of destruction also represented a new level of violence against health care professionals and supplies, Gallagher said.
“This does seem to be something we haven’t seen before, and we don’t want this to become the norm,” in conflicts, she added.
It was imperative for the U.N. to find a way to get humanitarian aid into the country, she said, to address vast shortages of medicine and medical supplies.
The data was collected from sources on the ground and from open sources, including U.N., governmental, NGO and media reports, among others.