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Amnesty: Russian, Syrian forces target hospitals

Rights group Amnesty International has accused the Syrian government and Russian forces of deliberately targeting hospitals as a strategy of war in Syria's conflict. It says the attacks amount to war crimes.

Amnesty International said in a report released Thursday it had "compelling evidence" of at least six attacks on medical facilities in Aleppo, northern Syria, over the past three months.

"Russian and Syrian government forces appear to have deliberately and systematically targeted hospitals and other medical facilities… to pave the way for ground forces to advance on northern Aleppo," Amnesty said in the report.

It said strikes on hospitals had intensified during recent negotiations on a ceasefire in Syria.

Amnesty's crisis response director, Tirana Hassan, said the strikes on health facilities were "in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law."

"But what is truly egregious is that wiping out hospitals appears to have become part of their military strategy," Hassan said.

In one instance on December 25, several missiles struck Baghdad Hospital in Hreitan, north of Aleppo City, killing a medical worker and injuring around 30 patients and staff, Amnesty said. The group also quoted a doctor from Anadan, close to Aleppo, as saying most residents had cleared off by mid-February after attacks on the city's field hospital and medical center.

Monitoring group Physicians for Human Rights has documented 346 attacks against medical facilities in the course of the Syrian conflict. It said the bulk of attacks were conducted by Syrian or Russian forces. Moscow denies targeting civilians in its Syria campaign, as does Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Shaky ceasefire

A partial ceasefire came into force in Syria last week, marking the first major cessation of hostilities in the five-year civil war that has claimed more than 270,000 lives. UN-sponsored peace talks between Syria's government and rebels are scheduled to restart in Geneva next week if the ceasefire holds. The agreement does not involve jihadist groups such as the "Islamic State" and al-Nusra Front.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande are expected to discuss the Syrian ceasefire with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a conference call on Friday.

A spokeswoman for Cameron said it was an "opportunity" for leaders to come together "and make very clear to president Putin that we need this ceasefire to hold, to be a lasting one and to open the way for a real political transition."

nm/kms (AP, dpa, AFP)

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