The UN has come under fire for sharing the coordinates of Syrian hospitals with Russia, which medical charities say is an “extremely high-risk strategy” that could be exploited.
The organisation has given GPS locations supplied by NGOs operating in rebel-held Idlib and Eastern Ghouta to Russia and the US as part of a new “notification system”.
The Syrian government and its Russian backer, which has been bombing in support of President Bashar al-Assad since 2015, have systematically targeted hospitals and clinics during assaults on opposition strongholds.
In recent weeks, dozens of facilities in Eastern Ghouta have been put out of service, most others have been forced to move underground.
The UN hopes making them public will either act as a deterrent or at least better enable them to establish intent should they later be attacked.
“There were 120 attacks on hospitals and medical facilities in Syria last year,” Jan Egeland, UN humanitarian adviser on Syria, told the Telegraph. “Syria is one of the worst wars on medical workers in recent history and part of the problem is there has been no functioning notification system to protect them.”
He said there had been a reluctance among doctors on the ground to share their location, but they have been left with few other options. “‘We’ve been attacked for so long,’ they tell me, ‘I can’t see how it could be worse’,” Mr Egeland said.
He said some NGOs had in the past provided their coordinates to the UN and reported a subsequent drop in the number of air strikes on its services.
The initiative was led by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which has seen a number of its hospitals hit in recent months.
However, others warned the strategy could backfire given Russia has shown little deference for international law on the targeting of medical facilities.
“They have bombed hospitals with little thought, and have always given the excuse that they were harbouring terrorists, which is untrue,” said Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, director of Doctors under Fire and the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM). “They act with impunity as there has been zero consequence so far.
“Until there is, why would they stop?” he told the Telegraph. “It’s an extremely high-risk move.”
Mr Egeland said Russia had offered assurances they would not target any of the facilities identified, while the UN in turn provided Moscow assurances they were not being used by any armed groups.
However, there could be no real guarantee that the Syria regime would not use the information shared with them by Russia to carry out their own attacks.
It was also not clear what the recourse would be if Russia broke its promise.
Mr Bretton-Gordon said UOSSM, along with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), stopped sharing the locations of its hospitals “years ago” after their medical facilities in eastern Aleppo began being targeted.
“Every time we did, shortly after they’d be hit,” he said.
He said every UOSSM clinic in Eastern Ghouta, an enclave outside Damascus where regime forces are attacking rebels, has been put out of service in recent weeks.
Those that have managed to reopen are now only able to operate underground and move location daily.
Doctors there say they have seen much more sophisticated weapons used since Russia joined the war, such as so-called bunker-buster bombs that burrow deep underground before exploding.
Earlier this week the Telegraph reported that a British doctor helping surgeons in rebel-held Aleppo in 2016 may have had his computer hacked and the information retrieved from it used to carry out an air strikes on the hospital.
Dr David Nott was giving instructions from the UK over Skype to doctors in an underground theatre of M10 hospital in 2016 when he believes that his computer was infiltrated, revealing the operating room’s coordinates.
The hospital was struck by a bunker-busting bomb days later. Experts said that only Russia could have dropped it.
“The grim reality is that we have reached a stage in the war where the international community is unable to offer protection to civilians or humanitarians,” said Emma Beals, an independent Syria analyst. “So policies are decided based on possible future accountability for inevitable loss of life.
“That’s astonishingly macabre, even within the context of the Syrian war.”
Article Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/24/un-fire-giving-russia-coordinates-syrian-hospitals-high-risk/