Syria: senior UN officials paint grim picture as government and allies reportedly attack hospitals

NEW YORK, 22nd December, 2015 (WAM) -- Hospitals, markets and bakeries have been hit, scores of civilians are killed and injured almost daily, and doctors themselves have become targets in escalating fighting and airstrikes in Syria, reportedly by the government and its allies, a senior United Nations relief official has reported, voicing outrage.

In the first briefing to the Security Council since the 15-member body on Friday gave the UN an enhanced role in shepherding the opposing sides to talks for a political transition, endorsing a timetable for a ceasefire, a new constitution and elections, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kyung-wha Kang, described a litany of the ongoing attacks against civilians. Also giving a brief was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, who said the rate at which Syrians were fleeing the country "shows how unbearable things have become."

"This loss of innocent lives and wanton indiscriminate destruction of populated areas is an outrage, and those responsible must be held accountable," said Ms. Kang, referring specifically to Idlib in the north of the country, where six airstrikes hit a busy market place, several public buildings and residential areas yesterday, killing 43 people.

The escalation of attacks in the north of the country, reportedly by Syrian and allied forces, is such that doctors working to save injured civilians "fear that the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems are no longer the shield of protection that they must be," she added.

"Since the start of this crisis (nearly five years ago), Physicians for Human Rights have documented 336 attacks on at least 240 medical facilities and the death of 697 medical personnel. These attacks are flagrant violations of international humanitarian law and an affront to the core of our shared humanity that must be guarded, caring for the wounded and the sick," she said.

"I plead with the parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of health facilities, workers and patients under international humanitarian law. Similarly the removal of surgical supplies and trauma kits from convoys by the Syrian government must end," she underscored.

In his remarks, Mr. Guterres said that nearly one million people have arrived by boat in Europe this year, more than 50 percent of them Syrians. His office, UNHCR, just published a survey of over 1,200 of them, and the findings confirmed something the agency has long suspected: Syria is experiencing a massive brain drain.

"Some 86 percent of those we interviewed have a secondary education. Almost half have gone to university. One can only imagine the disastrous consequences of such an exodus on the future post-conflict reconstruction of Syria," he said, adding that the fact that two-thirds of the Syrians interviewed in Greece by UNHCR had left the country in 2015, with 37 percent coming directly from Syria after just a few days in transit, shows how unbearable things have become.

"We need a ‘New Deal’ between the international community, Europe in particular, and Syria's neighbours. It is clear that without education for their children, access to the labour market and protection against poverty, more and more Syrians will see themselves left with only one option, moving on," he emphasised.


WAM/AAMIR/Moran