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Security Brief: Bombing of Hospital in Aleppo, Syria

Week of March 22 | Issue 26


Team: CENTCOM

Bombing of the hospital in Aleppo, Syria


Location of bombing within Syria[1]


Date: March 21, 2021

Location: Atareb City, Aleppo Province, Syria

Parties involved: Syrian government; Russia

The event: 8 civilians were killed (2 died from their injuries days after) and 14 people were wounded, including five health staff, when a hospital west of Aleppo was shelled by Syrian forces. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said: “four of the injured are in a critical condition.”[2] The hospital is now out of service. Meanwhile, Russian airstrikes hit a gas factory on the same day close to the town of Sarmada near the Turkish border. The attack came despite a Russian-Turkish ceasefire in place since March 2020 which covers the hospital and the wider rebel-held stronghold in northwest Syria—ending a Russian bombing campaign in support of the Syrian government.

The implications:

  • By violating the Russian-Turkish ceasefire with its support of the hospital bombing and execution of the factory bombing, Russia is demonstrating that it is no longer convinced by Turkey’s longtime narrative about hitting Syrian Kurds in Northern Syria. Civilian targets like hospitals and industrial facilities are vital for the infrastructure that Turkey aims to establish with its intervention in Syria. This is likely to further sour Turkish-Russian relations and escalate military tensions and violence in Northern, Kurd-controlled Syria. As tensions rise between these two powers who both possess the resolve to pursue military escalation, innocent Syrians will bear the brunt of the violence, resulting in more displacement, hunger, and casualties.

  • The attack is largely considered an expression of Russian disapproval of US President Biden’s remarks about Russian action in Syria. The SAMS surgical hospital was funded by the US. A defected captain now in the ranks of the National Liberation Front asserts that “the US administration’s statement a few days ago about not recognizing the Assad regime’s elections, the assertion that the elections are illegal, and continuing to implement the Caesar Act, as well as threatening to punish Russia and hold Putin accountable resulted in a Russian response that struck US proxies in Idlib and Aleppo.”[3]

  • Hospitals in Syria are a preferred target as data shows they have been attacked around 400 times in the past decades.[4] At least 90% of those attacks deliberately picked hospitals as targets. The move intends to cripple rebel capacity to provide medical security to civilians or its ranks. Sources have stressed the importance of preserving videos of bombings to help investigations and hold criminal behaviors accountable.

  • The attack has widespread implications throughout human rights monitors and non-governmental organizations. The strike brought about strong statements from the director of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and is a serious breach of international humanitarian law, especially since the coordinates of the hospital had been shared by the United Nations. The indignation will have little impact on future strikes as precedent shows attacks of this sort continue to occur despite pressure from non-governmental organizations.

[1] Aimee Hanstein, “Location of bombing” via Google Maps

[2] Several killed in gov’t attack on hospital in northwest Syria, Al Jazeera Media Network, March 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/3/21/syria-several-killed-in-govt-attack-on-hospital-in-idlib

[3] Russia Bombs Al-Atareb Hospital in Western Aleppo, The Syrian Observer, March 2021, https://syrianobserver.com/news/64842/russia-bombs-al-atareb-hospital-in-western-aleppo.html

[4] Syria's hospitals face systematic attacks: report, DW, March 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/syrias-hospitals-face-systematic-attacks-report/a-56811097

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