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Press Release

Syria: IRC statement on hospital attack in northern Aleppo, northwest Syria

On Saturday evening a hospital in northern Aleppo, supported by SAMS – one of the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) partner organisations – was hit by explosive weapons, resulting in multiple casualties, including humanitarian workers. The attack completely destroyed the hospital’s emergency room and the labour and delivery room. The outpatient department has been partially destroyed. There have been more than fourteen deaths, including four staff members from IRC partner organisations SAMS and Shafak, and at least eleven people injured. The hospital is now out of service. 

Wolfgang Gressmann, the International Rescue Committee’s Acting Country Director for Syria, said: 

“We utterly condemn this deadly attack on Al-Shifaa Hospital, one of the largest medical facilities in northern Syria. Fourteen people have been killed, including two hospital staff and two ambulance drivers. Eleven staff members of our partner organisation SAMS have been injured, including one midwife who is in critical condition. This is the 11th attack on health care that has been recorded so far this year, and brings the total number of verified attacks on health care since January 2019 to 124.

“Health facilities are protected under international law and should be safe havens in times of crisis, but after 10 years of armed conflict, this is not the case in Syria. Since the start of the conflict, Physicians for Human Rights have documented close to 600 attacks on health care. Past experience shows that any uptick in attacks on health care can foreshadow a new escalation in violence. It is vital that these attacks stop. We urge all parties to the conflict to abide by the ceasefire, to uphold their obligations to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and to work towards bringing a peaceful end to the armed conflict in Syria.”

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) and its Syrian partner organizations the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), Independent Doctors Association (IDA), the Syrian Expatriates Medical Association (SEMA), Sustainable International Medical Relief Organization (SIMRO), Syria Relief and Development (SRD) and the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organization (UOSSM) launched a report earlier this year - A Decade of Destruction: Attacks on health care in Syria - about the devastating impact that attacks on hospitals and clinics have had on patients and health workers. The report documents with chilling detail how this 10-year armed conflict has turned hospitals from safe havens into no-go zones where Syrian civilians now fear for their lives. 

Key findings from IRC surveys of 237 people and 74 health workers:

  • 81% of health workers had a coworker or patient who was killed or injured due to an armed attack 
  • 77% had witnessed an average of 4 attacks on health care - some had witnessed as many as 20 
  • 68% were inside a health facility when it was attacked
  • 59% of civilians had been directly impacted by an attack on a health facility
  • 49% fear accessing healthcare as a result of armed attacks

The IRC is calling on the United Nations and world leaders to strengthen accountability for violations of international law so that they no longer continue with impunity and so that people in Syria can safely access the health care they need.

About the IRC in Syria

The IRC has been delivering aid in Syria since 2012, and last year the IRC and partners delivered health, protection, and livelihoods to over 900,000 people in the country. In northwest Syria, the IRC and its partners reached over 318,000 patients in 2020 through 17 health facilities: 2 hospitals - including 1 COVID isolation hospital, 2 mobile clinics, 12 primary health care centres and 1 mental health centre. Additionally, we have one fleet of 10 ambulances, 5 of which are dedicated to the COVID-19 response, transporting suspected cases to testing facilities and then transferring them for treatment. In addition, our response to the pandemic includes implementing infection, prevention and control (IPC)  measures across all IRC supported health facilities; training staff in how to protect themselves and their patients from the virus; and continuing to raise awareness of the pandemic in the communities where we and our partners operate. The IRC also provides specialist care to vulnerable women and girls, pregnant women and the elderly; provides psychosocial support to help children and their families overcome emotional distress; and helps thousands of Syrians gain an income through emergency cash distributions, business grants and training.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.