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Deadly airstrikes destroy three hospitals, school in Syria

Attacks, blamed on Russian jets, leaves tens of thousands without access to medical services in war-torn Idlib province

At least 23 civilians were killed when missiles hit three hospitals and a school in rebel-held Syrian towns on Monday, residents said, as Russian-backed Syrian troops intensified their push toward the rebel stronghold of Aleppo.

Fourteen people were killed in the town of Azaz near the Turkish border when missiles slammed into a school sheltering families fleeing the offensive and the children's hospital, two residents and a medic said.

Bombs also hit another refugee shelter south of the town and a convoy of trucks, another resident said.

"We have been moving scores of screaming children from the hospital," said medic Juma Rahal. At least two children were killed and scores of people injured, he said.

Activists posted video online purporting to show the damaged hospital. Three crying babies lay in incubators in a ward littered with broken medical equipment. Reuters could not independently verify the video.

In Turkey, the private Dogan news agency reported that more than 30 of those wounded in the airstrikes in Azaz, primarily children, were transferred to a hospital in southern Turkey. It showed footage of ambulances arriving at the Kilis State hospital and medical personnel unloading children on stretchers and a girl wrapped in a blanket as well as a handful of adults

“They hit the school, they hit the school,” wailed a Syrian woman who was unloaded from an ambulance onto a wheelchair.

In a separate incident, missiles hit another hospital in the town of Marat Numan in Idlib province, in northwestern Syria, said the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity, which was supporting the hospital.

MSF said the attacks were minutes apart, adding that at least seven people were killed and eight members of staff are currently missing.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks violence across the country, said one male nurse was killed and five female nurses.

“This appears to be a deliberate attack on a health structure, and we condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms,” said Massimiliano Rebaudengo, MSF's mission chief. “The destruction of the hospital leaves the local population of around 40,000 people without access to medical services in an active zone of conflict.”

The aid group said the hospital had 30 beds, 54 staff members, two operating theatres, an outpatients department and an emergency room. The statement added that MSF has been supporting the hospital since September and covered all its needs, including providing medical supplies and running costs.

"The author of the strike is clearly ... either the government or Russia," MSF president Mego Terzian told Reuters, adding that it was not the first time the charity’s facilities in Syria had been attacked.

Also in Marat Numan, another strike hit the National Hospital on the north edge of town, killing two nurses, the Observatory said.

The Observatory and residents in both towns blamed Russian strikes, saying the planes deployed were more numerous and the munitions more powerful than the Syrian military typically used.

Abu Thaer al-Halabi, a spokesman for the rebel-controlled Aleppo local council, also told Al Jazeera the strikes were carried out by Russian jets. The strikes also destroyed a section of a highway that facilitates the main supply line for humanitarian aid to the region, he said.

Over the past week, Syrian troops have been on the offensive in the country's north under the cover of Russian airstrikes.

Rescue workers and rights groups say Russian bombing has killed scores of civilians at market places, hospitals, schools and residential areas in Syria. Western countries also say Russia has been attacking mostly Western-backed insurgent groups.

But Moscow has said it is targeting "terrorist groups" and dismissed any suggestion it has killed civilians since beginning its air campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad's forces in September.

Meanwhile in Brussels, European Union officials on Monday called on Turkey to halt its military action in Syria after Turkish forces shelled positions held by a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia over the weekend.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said that “only a few days ago, all of us including Turkey, sitting around the table decided steps to de-escalate and have a cessation of hostilities.”

She said more fighting “is obviously not what we expect.”

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said “we have the plan for a cessation of hostilities and I think everybody has to abide by that.”

Syria's main Kurdish faction, the People's Protection Units, has been most effective in combating the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but Turkey appears uneasy over the group's recent gains.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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