The UN and US yesterday condemned suspected Russian air strikes on medical facilities and schools in northern Syria that the world body said killed almost 50 civilians.
The UN said air strikes on at least five medical facilities and two schools in northern Syria’s Aleppo and Idlib provinces killed nearly 50 civilians including children.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon considers that “such attacks are blatant violations of international law”, added the organisation’s deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.
The US said air strikes hit two civilian hospitals in and around northern Syria’s Aleppo, identifying them as one run by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and another in the city of Azaz.
“That the (President Bashar al-) Assad regime and its supporters would continue these attacks, without cause and without sufficient regard for international obligations to safeguard innocent lives, flies in the face of the unanimous calls by the ISSG (International Syria Support Group)... to avoid attacks on civilians,” the US State Department said.
It said such action “casts doubt on Russia’s willingness and/or ability to help bring to a stop the continued brutality of the Assad regime against its own people”.
The increasing violence on the ground in Syria and war of words between Ankara and Moscow have dampened hopes that a proposed cessation of hostilities will take hold this week.
The UN’s peace envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura made a surprise visit to Damascus yesterday, a government source there said, as world powers push for a ceasefire.
Without assigning blame, MSF confirmed a hospital supported by the charity was hit in Idlib, northwest Syria, and said seven people were killed and at least eight were missing, presumed dead.
The air strike devastated the hospital, blasting twisted metal, cinderblocks and other debris into the surrounding area.
Turkey, meanwhile, resumed shelling Kurdish-led forces in several parts of Aleppo.
Ankara accuses the Kurdish forces of ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an outlawed movement that has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey.
Despite the shelling, the coalition of Kurdish and other fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was advancing inside the key rebel-held town of Tal Rifaat, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
The town, barely 20km from the border, is held by an alliance of mostly Islamist rebels.
The SDF has already seized the nearby Minnigh airbase from rebel forces and severed the road between Tal Rifaat and the key rebel-held town of Azaz on the border.
Turkey fears the Kurds will be able to create a contiguous Kurdish territory just across the border in northern Syria.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned yesterday that Ankara “will not let Azaz fall” to the SDF, adding “the necessary intervention will be made”.
Moscow says its military intervention has targeted IS and other “terrorists”, but rights groups say Russia’s air raids have caused disproportionately high civilian casualties.
The MSF-supported hospital in Idlib is one of several health facilities Russia is accused of hitting since its aerial campaign began September 30.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini branded the attack as “unacceptable” and urged “all parties (to respect) basic principles of humanitarian law”.
Russia’s air strikes have allowed government troops to press a major operation that has virtually encircled rebels in eastern Aleppo city, as well as pushing them from much of the region to the north.
They have angered Turkey, with Davutoglu yesterday issuing Russia a stark warning.
“If Russia continues behaving like a terrorist organisation and forcing civilians to flee, we will deliver an extremely decisive response,” he said.
More than 260,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.
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