Canadian-backed health centre in Syria destroyed, says aid agency

The Al Marjeh Primary Health Care Centre in rebel-held Aleppo was bombed during air strikes, said the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations

OTTAWA – A Canadian-supported hospital in Syria was destroyed Friday in what an aid agency said was a deliberate air strike that has forced other hospitals in the area to shut down.

Al Marjeh Primary Health Care Centre in rebel-held Aleppo, which has received millions of dollars in medical supplies from Canada, was bombed during air strikes, the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations said.

Pictures from the attack posted on the group’s website showed cinder block buildings left in rubble and medical supplies strewn under a collapsed roof.

The medical relief agency, known by its French acronym UOSSM, said it was the second bombing of a civilian hospital in three days.

“One of our primary health-care centres in Aleppo was hit badly, directly by an air strike,” said Dr. Anas Al Kassem, an Oakville, Ont., surgeon who heads UOSSM-Canada.

“Fortunately no casualties, but the area, the buildings, the dentist clinic, has been badly destroyed.”

There are about 50 Canadian doctors involved with UOSSM, although no Canadians have worked at the Al Marjeh hospital in over a year because the city is too dangerous, Al Kassem said in a telephone interview from Oakville.

Calling the attack a war crime, the non-profit agency urged the international community to protect hospitals and aid workers targeted in the Syrian civil war.

“Something has to happen, because these are war crimes against humanity and we can’t operate that way,” said Dr. Al Kassem.

The Canadian government condemned the recent attacks on medical facilities, calling them unacceptable.

“Canadians are outraged by the deliberate targeting of volunteers, humanitarian workers and medical personnel coming to the aid of the Syrian people,” Marie-Claude Bibeau, the minister of International Development said in a statement.

The Al Marjeh health care facility was opened in 2014 and has since performed over 46,000 consultations, mostly serving women and children.

While Canadian aid agencies and hospitals provide medical supplies, the centre is funded by the French government and the United Nations.

Al Kassem said six hospitals were hit in the last week; 15 hospitals came under attack in October alone — around the time that Russia began air strikes.

Amnesty International said at least 27 people were killed in one of the attacks Thursday.

Aleppo is divided between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government forces and rebels.

Days of airstrikes and shelling have killed about 200 people in Syria in the last week, says the British-based, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

UOSSM supplies 113 medical facilities in and around some of the most populous rebel-held cities in Syria, ranging from more modern clinics to makeshift operating rooms in houses.

While the source of Friday’s air strikes has not been verified, Al Kassem said he blames Russian and Syrian regime-backed forces.

“We know it’s not ISIS or other groups because they don’t have aircraft,” he said.

“It’s not the coalition, because they don’t target hospitals usually. But we cannot really confirm this.”

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