A White Helmets colleague tries to help Mohammad al-Shahwa, mortally wounded in a pro-Assad strike on an ambulance in Idlib Province, northwest Syria, May 4, 2019
A new report says Russian and Assad forces have struck 31 civil defense centers and vehicles in northwest Syria since April 26.
The 25-page report from the pro-opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights sets out the provision in the Geneva Convention that mandates the protection of medical personnel in conflicts “in all circumstances”, as it reviews the killing of 229 civil defense personnel in opposition areas since March 2013.
Focusing on the Russian-regime offensive and attacks on civilian areas in Idlib and northern Hama Provinces, the SNHR documents the killing of four White Helmets rescuers and wounding of 22. Eight centers were struck — four each by Russian and regime warplanes — and 23 ambulances and other vehicles were targeted. Almost all of the strikes were in southern Idlib and northern Hama.
In addition to the four White Helmets fatalities, three medics of the Violet Organization were killed by an airstrike on their ambulance in the town of Ma’arat al-Num’an on June 19.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, the Chairman of the SNHR, summarizes the attacks on the rescuers, violating international humanitarian law:
The tasks carried out by the Syrian Civil Defense teams (White Helmets) are diametrically opposed to the strategy of the Syrian regime and Russia of inflicting as much pain and fear in the community as possible. This is primarily why its equipment, headquarters and personnel have been subjected to deliberate shelling. Its reputation was also distorted by an attempt to link it to extremist organizations.
All those who kill and target those who assist and aid civilians must be condemned and exposed.
The report summarizes that in almost 400 attacks since March 2013, the Assad regime has killed 159 civil defense personnel and Russia 38. The Islamic State killed three, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces one, and “other parties” 28.
The SNHR calls on the UN Security Council to support medical staff by holding attackers accountable, and for the international community to increase support for relief efforts.
Russian-regime attacks have killed at least 550 civilians, including more than 130 children, in Idlib since late April. More than 2,100 people have been injured, and at least 330,000 of Idlib and northern Hama’s 3 million population — about 20% of those remaining in Syria — have been displaced.
Despite the assault on civilians, the Russian-regime offensive has been unable to break resistance. It quickly took several towns and villages in northwest Hama but has been checked by Turkish-backed rebels and the Islamist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.