The Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Aleksandr Yakovenko, appears to be claiming that either most hospitals across Syria are actually rebel military facilities, or that sites targeted by Russian and Syrian regime air strikes are military bases being misreported as hospitals by Western governments and media. Yakovenko said this in early October, as Syrian activists and international aid agencies reported an intensification in attacks on hospitals in rebel-held areas of Aleppo.
Yakovenko made his claim on Twitter on October 4 in response to an early post on the same social media platform by the British government’s Syria policy team, which accused Russia and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad of not targeting extremists but rather homes, hospitals, and schools.
Accompanied by a cartoon depicting a soldier with a Syrian flag defending quivering children against a grimacing, masked militant below the flag of the Free Syrian Army, wearing a belt of children, visually resembling a suicide belt, Yakovenko replied:
“Most 'hospitals' are unmarked rebels’ field facilities. Keeping civilians as a human shield is well known terrorist tactics.”
Leaving aside Yakovenko’s use of the cartoon to falsely equate the Free Syrian Army with terrorist groups that use suicide bombing tactics, is the ambassador to be trusted if his comment concerns targeted hospitals in Syria goes?
This is a simple case of weighing Yakovenko’s claims against those from a number of respectable, international aid organizations.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has reported on numerous occasions that hospitals for which it provides organizational support in Syria have been targeted by Russian or regime air strikes.
On October 4, MSF reported that four hospitals in Aleppo, two of them supported by the organization, had been bombed within the space of four days. One of the hospitals was bombed twice in that space of time, it said.
In August, MSF reported that a major hospital they supported in Idlib had been bombed, killing 13 people.
That same month, the France-based Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) reported that three medical facilities had been destroyed by air strikes in course of just six hours.
In July, the Britain-based Save the Children reported that a maternity hospital in Kafer Takhareem, supported by the organization, had been bombed, killing two people and injuring several others, including infants and pregnant women.
According to the New York-based Physicians for Human Rights, six hospitals in Aleppo were struck in the course of one week.
In May, France’s Médecins du Monde (Doctors Of The World) reported that two hospitals supported by the organization had been bombed. As many as 50 people died and more than 250 were wounded in the attack on the National Hospital in Idlib.
Either these organizations are misrepresenting the status of the medical operations they support in Syria, or Yakovenko’s statement is false.The bulk of evidence indicates the latter.
As for the other possible interpretation of the ambassador's tweet - that most hospitals in Syria -- not just those targeted by Russian or regime airstrikes -- are being used as military bases by rebel groups - there have been no reports from any international aid organizations, or even the Russian government, to support such an assertion.