Syrian air force
fires missiles at Aleppo hospital
Syrian government fighter planes fired rockets that struck the main
emergency hospital in an opposition-controlled area of Aleppo on 14
August 2012, wounding two civilians and causing significant damage,
Human Rights Watch said in a statement after visiting the damaged
hospital. The organisation says the attack is a violation of
The hospital is an established medical
facility and clearly marked with a red crescent
emblem on the front.
A rocket attack by government aircraft
on the hospital two days earlier, on August
12, killed four civilians and wounded three,
according to a physician at the hospital.
“Fighter jet attacks on a hospital twice in
three days indicate that this was no accident,”
said Ole Solvang, emergencies
researcher at Human Rights Watch. “By
firing rockets at a clearly marked hospital,
the government shows blatant disregard for
All hospitals, whether civilian or military,
are specially protected under international
humanitarian law, known as the laws
of war. They may not be targeted, even if
being used to treat enemy fighters. Under
the Geneva Conventions, hospitals remain
protected unless they are “used to commit
hostile acts” that are outside their humanitarian
function. Even then, they are only
subject to attack after a warning has been
given setting a reasonable time limit, and
after such warning has gone unheeded.
Under the laws of war, parties to a
conflict must take all feasible precautions
to ensure that a target of attack is a military
objective and not a civilian object. Attacks
that do not discriminate between military
targets and civilian objects are prohibited.
Individuals who order or carry out unlawful
attacks wilfully – that is, deliberately or
recklessly – are responsible for war crimes.
States are obligated under the laws of war
to investigate alleged war crimes and prosecute
Human Rights Watch visited the Dar al Shifaa Hospital, in the Sha’ar neighbourhood
of Aleppo, about one hour after the
August 14 attack, and examined the physical
damage and rocket remnants. Hospital
staff told Human Rights Watch that no
opposition fighters were deployed at the
hospital at the time of the two attacks, and
only several armed hospital guards were
providing security. Human Rights Watch
saw no signs of opposition military activity
in or around the hospital building.
On the fourth floor of the hospital,
Human Rights Watch saw the tail
remnants from about a dozen S-5 rockets.
These rockets are fired from aircraft with a
range of three to four kilometres.
The attacks on August 12 and 14 caused
major damage to the four upper floors of
the hospital, destroying walls, floors,
windows, and equipment in operating
rooms and other wards. According to the
chief physician, Dr Mohammed Asi, the
attack on August 12 killed four civilians
outside the hospital and wounded three
nurses. The August 14 attack wounded at
least two civilians who were on the street
outside the hospital, he said.
One of the wounded in the August 14
attack was a doctor from a makeshift field
hospital in western Aleppo, who said he
had stopped by Al Shifaa Hospital to get
medical supplies for his clinic. The doctor
sustained shrapnel wounds on his upper
legs, left foot, and both arms. He told
Human Rights Watch that another person
was wounded when one of the rockets hit
the street near the hospital.
Doctors at Al Shifaa Hospital told
Human Rights Watch that because the
area had been subjected to earlier attacks,
they had limited the use of the upper floors
to emergency surgery. As a result of the
two rocket attacks, hospital staff are now
only using the bottom two floors.
“We had just finished surgery and moved
to the second floor when the rockets hit,” one doctor told Human Rights Watch.
they had hit just minutes before we would
have all been dead.”
The doctors said that Dar al Shifaa
Hospital is the main emergency hospital in
the eastern part of the city of Aleppo, an area
currently controlled by the opposition Free
Syrian Army (FSA). According to hospital
records, on August 14, when Human Rights
Watch visited the hospital, the hospital had
that day received 24 civilian casualties,
including four children and four dead bodies
from other attacks around the city, mainly
from shelling in the Tariq al-Bab area. The
hospital keeps separate records for wounded
and killed FSA soldiers.
The doctors said that government forces
had used Al Shifaa Hospital until opposition
forces took control of the area in late July.
In addition to the two recent attacks on
Al Shifaa hospital, government forces have
allegedly targeted an ambulance in Aleppo.
The head of Dar al Shifaa Hospital, Dr Asi,
told Human Rights Watch that a helicopter
attacked an ambulance with rockets about 2
weeks prior to the attack on the hospital,
killing the driver, a nurse, and a wounded
man in the ambulance. Human Rights
Watch was unable to verify his account.
“Hospitals, doctors, and ambulances
should never be attacked,” Solvang said.
“In Aleppo, the Syrian government has
flouted this principle of international
WHO calls on
to assist Syria’s neighbours
in health care
With more than 120,000 registered
displaced Syrians currently temporarily
located outside the country, and thousands
more still pending registration, the World
Health Organisation (WHO) issued a
statement from Cairo calling on the international
community to extend its support
to the neighbouring countries of Jordan,
Lebanon and Iraq to ensure the availability
of essential healthcare services and maintenance
of the high cost of medical care for
hospital-based health conditions such as
palliative care for cancer and other complicated
The WHO also reported severe shortages
in medicines and pharmaceutical products
in the Syrian Arab Republic as a result of
the current crisis.
More than 90% of medicines in Syria
were locally produced before the unrest
began in February 2011. Since then,
economic sanctions, currency fluctuations,
difficulty in the availability of hard
currency and an increase in operational
costs have negatively affected the production
of medicines and pharmaceutical
products. The recent escalation of clashes
has impacted the pharmaceutical plants
located in rural Aleppo, Homs and rural
Damascus, where 90% of the country’s
plants are located. Many of these plants
have now closed as a result of the on-going
clashes and increased cost of fuel, resulting
in a critical shortage of medicines and
other life-saving pharmaceutical products.
Syrian Ministry of Health statistics show that prior to the unrest, 52.7% of the
was receiving treatment for gastrointestinal
diseases, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular
diseases, renal diseases and cancer.
Many of these patients are still dependent
on locally produced medicines that are now
no longer obtainable, and the reported
shortages could have catastrophic results.
Urgently needed medicines identified by
the WHO and the Syrian Ministry of Health
include those for tuberculosis, hepatitis, and
other chronic health conditions such as
hypertension, diabetes, thalassemia and
cancer, as well as medicines for kidney
disease. There is also an urgent need for
chemical reagents for blood screening tests
to ensure the safety and quality of blood used
in surgical and trauma care in hospitals.
of upload: 26th Sep 2012