Among the war crimes the commission alleged are assaults on medical facilities that are protected under international law and attacks on people and facilities using the Red Cross or Red Crescent emblems.
It listed multiple instances of government snipers targeting staff members or ambulances of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, whose leadership has ties to the Assad government – in all probability a prosecutable war crime, it said.
The commission said it had no indications that the rebels had targeted civilians, but that they’d taken medical supplies and equipment from government hospitals and on one occasion exploded a car bomb outside a hospital. International aid workers say the opposition sometimes targets government ambulances.
Of Syria’s 510 hospitals, 124 are state-owned and the rest are private. The government has reported that half the public hospitals are no longer functioning. An opposition group, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, claims that 225 private hospitals have stopped working because their facilities were damaged or destroyed or their medical staffs fear they’ll be targeted.
The group says makeshift emergency rooms set up in schools, mosques and other buildings to treat rebel and civilian casualties have been attacked 185 times; on four occasions, both doctors and patients were killed, the group says.
The near-collapse of medical care was evident early this month at a field hospital set up to treat wounded rebels in Hama province, near the town of Karnaz, which government artillery and aircraft were pounding in an offensive to dislodge rebels who’d seized the town late last year. Government troops reportedly overran Karnaz on Feb. 8.
Other than an ambulance, the clinic had almost had no equipment, and its meager stock of medicines was stashed away nearby. After only four days, the staff of 10 was preparing to pack up and move.
The doctors, who asked not to be photographed or identified for their safety, said they’d moved seven times in the past month across the northern Syrian countryside. “We were in the Idlib area, but planes came overhead, so we decided to come here,” one told McClatchy.
Hospitals in Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital and the scene of fierce fighting since July, have been hit particularly hard. The U.N. commission said the barrel bomb attack on Dar al Shifa killed civilians, significantly damaged the hospital’s infrastructure and substantially reduced the hospital’s ability to treat patients.
In the city’s Ashrafiya district, which has seen months of fighting between rebel and pro-Assad forces, all five private hospitals have stopped functioning, opposition activists claim. “There are 300,000 people and not a single hospital capable of receiving patients,” said Abdu Khalil, a 43-year-old electronics repairman who began delivering supplies to field hospitals last summer. He said that some of the hospitals had been bombed and others lacked drugs, equipment and medical personnel.
Medical workers tending wounded opposition soldiers or civilians have been targeted repeatedly, the U.N. and opposition activists claim. The Syrian Network for Human Rights has published a list of 143 medical workers it said had been killed by the government. It also reported that it had documented 3,000 arrests of medical staff and volunteers since the beginning of the anti-Assad uprising. Of them, 13 had been tortured to death while in custody, it said.