THE BLOG

The Coalition Forces Need to Do More to Prevent Helpless Civilians From Falling Victim to Airstrikes Against Hospitals in Syria

16/02/2016 09:46 GMT | Updated 15/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Monday saw yet another targeted strike in Syria. Not against ISIS, not against anything or anyone threatening. No, the latest attack I'm talking about is a deplorable airstrike on yet another Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital which was providing vital medical care to the region surrounding Maarat al-Numan. According to a monitoring group in the area, this attack, which resulted in more than 9 people's death - including one child's - and 8 missing staff, was carried out by Russian forces who two days prior had agreed with other world powers to limit hostilities in Syria.

This was no accident. With 4 rockets hitting the hospital, it was a targeted attack. And a cold-blooded one too because between each rocket the forces waited 15 minutes. This 'double-tap' tactic, also employed by US drone strikes in the conflict, allows locals to gather at the targeted site and help the casualties, only to find themselves in the line of fire of the next bomb.

Apart from the 9 dead, 8 missing and dozens injured, this strike, like several others, has left the local population without access to vital medical services. According to MSF, the local population of 40,000 people can now be added to the long list of civilians "without access to medical services in [the] active zone of conflict" that is Syria.

This isn't the first time such an attack has been carried out. 14 medical facilities in Syria, providing vital care for civilian affected by this rural civil war, have been hit and turned to dust since the clocks struck twelve and 2015 became 2016. MSF has even gone so far as to say that hospitals are no longer places where civilians can recover safely. That's how bad it's gotten. Innocent people are no longer able to safely recover from being caught in the crossfire of a civil war because foreign forces are insistent on bombing hospitals not once accidentally, but with time intervals that allow more civilians to gather on the bullseye.

2015 has been the worst year on record for healthcare workers in Syria, with over 640 killed since the crisis started. Foreign forces need to take responsibility for these blatant attacks on medical facilities. Not only because brave doctors are choosing to go into conflict zones and getting killed for their heroism, but because it impacts civilians all over the country. 40% of civilians in Syria no longer have access to basic healthcare and these raids send the message to Syrians that the foreign forces don't give a damn about their already strained healthcare, and that they don't give a damn that it leads to an increased number of preventable deaths.

If the UK government wants to be as tough on immigration and turn back as many refugees as it says it wants to, it needs to start doing more than just denouncing such attacks. These people, who as MSF said, are not able to recover safely in hospitals, will look to countries with safe hospitals and understandably seek to go there. The UK government cannot, as part of a coalition of foreign forces in Syria, stand by and let other nations bomb crucial hospitals and civilians yet also take an aggressive stance against those who flee these bombs.

Personally I think the government could be doing more to help refugees, but if it insists on barring them from entering the country, the least it could do is prevent civilians from becoming refugees in the first place by working with Russian forces and demanding and ensuring that hospitals, like the ones already flattened, do not get targeted. This would mean there is less strain on the medical system in Syria, so perhaps more civilians are and feel safer.

We are all part of this conflict. Just because it happened to be Russian planes, this time, doesn't mean that France, the US and the UK can just let it happen. Bomb ISIS targets, yes, but don't touch civilians. It's not collateral damage when (according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights) 1000 civilians, including 200 children, have already been killed since September 2015 by Russian planes.

All forces, whether in the US-led coalition or Russian, need to come to their senses that the targeting of civilians, especially helpless ones in hospitals, is deeply wrong and saddening, especially when the number of courageous medical volunteers being killed by the same bombs is fast approaching 1000. This violation of international laws cannot become the new norm of a conflict.