UN Under Fire for Giving Russia Coordinates of Syrian Hospitals in ‘High-Risk’ Strategy to Stop Attacks

The United Nations has come under fire for sharing the coordinates of hospitals in rebel-held areas of Syria with Russia, only for one of them to be bombed days later, The Telegraph reports. The organisation gave the GPS locations supplied by NGOs operating in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta to Russia and the US as part of a new “notification system”.

One of the hospitals whose details were shared with the UN on March 12 – in the Arbin neighbourhood of besieged Ghouta – was targeted in a direct strike on March 20. At least one patient was reported to have been killed by what medics suspected to be a “bunker-buster” bomb. It was not immediately clear whether it was a Syrian or Russian attack, however Moscow is known to use the more precise bombs, which burrow deep underground before exploding.

The Syrian government and its Russian backer, which intervened in the war in support of President Bashar al-Assad in 2015, have systematically targeted hospitals and clinics during assaults on opposition strongholds. The UN had hoped making the locations public would either act as a deterrent or at least better enable them to establish intent should they later be attacked.

“There were 120 attacks on hospitals and medical facilities in Syria last year. Syria is one of the worst wars on medical workers in recent history and part of the problem is there has been no functioning notification system to protect them,” Jan Egeland, UN humanitarian adviser on Syria, told the Telegraph.

He said some NGOs had in the past provided their coordinates to the UN and reported a subsequent drop in the number of air strikes on its services.The initiative was led by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which has seen a number of hospitals it supports hit in recent months. However, others warned the strategy could backfire given Russia has shown little deference for international law on the targeting of medical facilities.

“They have bombed hospitals with little thought, and have always given the excuse that they were harbouring terrorists, which is untrue. They act with impunity as there has been zero consequence so far. Until there is, why would they stop? It’s an extremely high-risk move,” said Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, director of Doctors under Fire and the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM).

Mr Egeland said the UN was investigating the March 20 attack. Mr Bretton-Gordon said UOSSM, along with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), stopped sharing the locations of its hospitals “years ago” after their medical facilities in eastern Aleppo began being targeted.

“Every time we did, shortly after they’d be hit,” he told the Telegraph.