Two of the biggest hospitals in Aleppo were targeted in early-morning strikes Wednesday by forces aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seeking to retake rebel-held areas in the east of the city.
Overnight, bombs and artillery fire hit the M10 and M2 hospitals in eastern Aleppo, where 250,000 people are trapped and cut off from aid supplies by Russian and Syrian government forces. The hospitals are given code names by local doctors to try to obscure their locations and prevent attack — a tactic that has clearly failed.
"The warplane flew over us and directly started dropping its missiles on this hospital ... at around 4 a.m.," Mohammad Abu Rajab, a radiologist at the largest trauma hospital in the city's rebel-held sector, told Reuters. "The rubble fell in on the patients in the intensive care unit." After strikes hit the hospital's oxygen and power generators, patients were transferred to another hospital in the area.
Prior to the destruction of the M10 hospital, at 3:30 a.m. local time Wednesday another hospital was hit by artillery fire, presumably part of the ground assault that began Tuesday following days of unprecedented bombing from the skies. According to medics at the M2 hospital, staff retreated to the basement to seek shelter from the attack.
Speaking to Middle East Eye, Mohamad Zain Khandaka, a medical administrator in the M2 hospital, said the attacks killed two patients, injured three staff and destroyed an ambulance. Up to 90 people were reported trapped in the basement. Among them was Bara'a, a nurse at the hospital.
"If the hospital falls on top of us, come pull us out from under the rubble, but do not take pictures," Bara'a said in an online discussion group of journalists and doctors, as reported by the Guardian. "Please don't take pictures. We won't gain anything from it and our dignity is too precious."
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Adham Sahloul, who works for the Syrian American Medical Society, a group that supported both hospitals, said six civilians were killed near the M2 hospital as they stood in line to get bread.
Sahloul said Wednesday's airstrikes were deliberate, and that there are only 29 doctors left in eastern Aleppo to treat 350,000 people — and as a result of the bombing 8 of those are working on repairing the M10 hospital rather than "treating hundreds of bomb victims."
Doctors, hospitals and medical facilities in opposition areas have consistently been targets for government forces during the Syrian civil war, as it sees them as illegal and therefore legitimate military targets, according to the UN's commission of inquiry into the Syria crisis.
The latest attacks follow a week of intense airstrikes against the rebel-held areas of Aleppo that have been described as the worst since the start of the war five years ago and which have killed hundreds of civilians, including dozens of children.