June 14 (UPI) — A Syrian war monitor said an attack on the pro-Turkish rebel-held city of Afrin killed more than a dozen people and injured nearly two dozen others, many of whom were at a hospital that was shelled.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 18 people, including a mother and her baby, three women medics and a doctor, were killed and 23 others were injured, some seriously, in the Saturday attack on Afrin, but it expects the death toll to rise.
The Syrian American Medical Society said in a statement that the al Shifaa Hospital in Afrin that it supports was hit by two rockets at about 7:15 p.m. Saturday, killing 13 people, including two hospital staff and two ambulance drivers. An additional 11 staff were injured, it said.
The first missile hit the hospital’s emergency room and the second hit its labor and delivery room, it said, adding both units have been completely destroyed in addition to the outpatient department, which has been partially destroyed.
The two missiles were fired after an initial shell fell within 100 meters of the facility, it said.
The hospital, which is one of the largest in northern Syria and provides an average of 15,000 medical services a month, has been taken out of service and patients were evacuated to nearby facilities.
“We’re appalled by continued attacks on healthcare,” SAMS President Dr. Mufaddal Hamadeh said, calling on the international community to investigate “these blatant attacks and hold perpetrators accountable.”
“Innocent civilians and health workers continue to pay a heavy price in this conflict,” Hamadeh said.
On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the attack on Syrian Kurdish groups the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and the People’s Protection Units, known as the YPG.
“We will make these villains, massacring innocent people in our country, civilians in Syria and other Kurdish brothers and sisters in Iraq, pay for every drop of blood they shed,” the president said at a press conference.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces denied any involvement in a statement.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of innocent life,” SDF Commander-in-Chief Mazloum Abdi said. “Targeting hospitals is a violation of international law.”
The conflict in Syria that erupted in 2011 has resulted in the deaths of more than 495,000 people documented by the SOHR, though the actual death toll is much higher.
On Sunday, the World Health Organization condemned the attack on the hospital and urged in a statement for both sides of the conflict to respect the safety and neutrality of healthcare workers and facilities.
“Tragedies like this can and should be avoided by warring parties as obligated under International Humanitarian Law,” it said.
Despite international law barring attacks against health facilities, Physicians for Human Rights as of March has documented 599 attacks on a least 350 separate medical facilities, killing 930 health workers in the 10 years of conflict. Of the attacks, 298 were committed by the Syrian government forces with another 243 being committed by either Russian or Syrian forces, it said.
“Past experience shows that any uptick in attacks on healthcare can foreshadow a new escalation in violence,” Wolfgang Gressmann, the acting director for Syria for the International Rescue Committee, said Sunday. “It is vital that these attacks stop.”
In the United States, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the Biden administration condemns the recent attack on the al Shifaa Hospital “in the strongest terms.”
“This barbaric attack took the lives of children, medical staff and first responders,” he said in a statement. “Civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals must never be the target of military action.”