Turkey on Monday accused Russia of an “obvious war crime” as the death toll from missile attacks on hospitals and schools in northern Syria rose to nearly 50, many of them
Ankara also warned Kurdish militia fighters there they would face the “harshest reaction” if they tried to capture a town near the Turkish border. An offensive supported by Russian bombing and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias has brought the Syrian army to within 25 km of Turkey’s frontier. The Kurdish YPG militia - which Turkey regards as a hostile insurgent force - has exploited the situation, seizing ground from Syrian rebels to extend its presence along the border.
Dozens of civilians were killed when missiles hit at least five medical facilities and two schools in rebel-held areas of Syria on Monday, according to the United Nations, which called the attacks a blatant violation of international law. The UN put the toll at almost 50.
Among them were at least 14 killed in the northern town of Azaz, the last rebel stronghold before the border with Turkey, when missiles hit a children’s hospital and a school sheltering refugees, a medic and two residents said. Missiles also hit a hospital in the town of Marat Numan in the province of Idlib, south of Aleppo.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said a Russian missile had hit the buildings and that many civilians including children had been killed. Turkey’s foreign ministry accused Russia of carrying out an “obvious war crime.”
But Russian Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said Russian air strikes were targeting Islamic State infrastructure and she had no reason to believe that Russian planes had bombed civilian sites in Idlib.
“We are confident that (there is) no way could it be done by our defence forces. This contradicts our ideology,” she said in Geneva.
Syria’s ambassador to Russia said US war planes were responsible.
White House national security adviser Susan Rice on Monday condemned in the “strongest terms” the intensified bombing of northern Syria, adding that it ran counter to commitments to reduce hostilities made by major powers last week in Munich.
Tens of thousands have fled to Azaz from towns and villages where there is heavy fighting between the Syrian army and militias.
“We have been moving scores of screaming children from the hospital,” said medic Juma Rahal, following the missile strikes. At least two children were killed and ambulances ferried scores of injured people to Turkey for treatment, he said.
French charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said seven people were killed and at least eight staff were missing after missiles hit a hospital in the province of Idlib, west of Aleppo, in a separate incident. “The author of the strike is clearly ... either the government or Russia,” MSF president Mego Terzian said.