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MSF calls for independent probe into deadly air attacks on hospital in Syria

When aerial photos of the bombed hospital in Syria first emerged some observers noticed there were no markings to indicate it was a hospital. That was deliberate, and the reason is ominous.

Doctors Without Borders called on Thursday for an independent investigation into airstrikes that killed at least 25 people at one of its hospitals in northern Syria this week.

Also known by its French acronym, MSF, the group said it believes the attack was likely carried out by Syrian and Russian forces as part of their push to win back Syria's largest city, Aleppo.

The air attack that destroyed the hospital on Monday was part of a series of strikes that destroyed five medical facilities and two schools in rebel-held towns across the region, according to the UN. The attacks left more than 50 people dead.

The bombed remains of a MSF hospital in Idlib province.

The bombed remains of a MSF hospital in Idlib province

The MSF facility in Maarat al-Numan in Idlib province, west of Aleppo, was struck repeatedly, killing nine medical personnel and 16 patients, according to MSF. Ten others were wounded in the assault that demolished the 30-bed facility.

"According to accounts from medical staff onsite, four missiles struck the hospital in an attack lasting about two minutes. Forty minutes later, after rescuers arrived, the site was bombed again," said Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of the medical charity.

"This attack can only be considered deliberate," she said at a press conference. "It was probably carried out by the Syrian government-led coalition that is predominantly active in the region."

MSF blames Russia-Syria

MSF said it based its conclusions on first-hand accounts of from survivors of the bombing.

"We say a probability because we don't have more facts than the accounts from our staff," Liu said, noting that it took time to collect forensic evidence. "The only thing predominantly in the region is the Syrian government-led coalition.

"We would like the facts to be established, we are open for other mechanisms for an independent investigation," she said.

Early aerial pictures of the bombed hospital had some observers wondering why there was no marking. MSF said the decision not to mark the hospitals was intentional.

People carry medical supplies found under the rubble of a destroyed (MSF) hospital.

People carry medical supplies found under the rubble of a destroyed MSF hospital

"In Syria the problem faced by medical staff is if you give GPS (coordinates), you indicate where you are, they think the chance to be targeted is higher," Isabelle Defourny, director of operations for MSF France, told the briefing.

"It is known," she said, "that providing humanitarian assistance inside opposition-controlled areas is something which is criminalized by the Syrian government."

Moscow denied allegations it was involved in the airstrikes, saying Western nations "have neither direct nor indirect evidence" that Russia is responsible.

MSF said more than 7,000 people were killed at 70 of its medical facilities inside Syria in 2015, with more than 154,000 wounded.

Up to 40 percent of those casualties were women and children, according to MSF, "indicating that civilian areas were consistently hit by aerial bombardments and other forms of attack."

bik/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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