Suspected Russian or Syrian regime airstrikes yet again struck hospitals in Aleppo on Wednesday, leaving at least 10 people dead and badly damaging the sole pediatric hospital in the rebel-held eastern half of the city.
Graphic footage taken in the aftermath of the airstrikes the eastern Sha'ar district, a neighborhood deep inside the city's rebel-held east, showed rescue workers pulling the wounded from the rubble and placing them into ambulances as fires raged and black smoke filled the air. A lifeless body covered in dusty and soot lay on a roadway.
The al-Bayan hospital and the al-Hakim hospital, which contained the only pediatric units still working in the eastern part of the city, were both struck.
At the al-Bayan hospital, health workers were forced to move infants under their care to a temporary location after the incubators shut down following the attack, according to Dr. Fadi Hakeem, who spoke to BuzzFeed News from Turkey.
"There were no armed groups that belong to any military faction in this neighborhood," Hakeem told BuzzFeed News. Although there were no casualties reported among the hospital staff, he said their infrastructure had been destroyed, and both facilities were no longer usable.
"If the situation continues like this, and the regime with Russian [help] continues bombing the hospitals, I confirm that there is a health catastrophe coming in Syria," said Hakeem.
Dr. Hatem, director of the pediatric hospital and the subject of a recent BuzzFeed News story, said the roof had caved in, rendering the facility unusable. Precious incubators that nurture premature newborns had also been destroyed. Among the dozens of people killed or injured, he said, were pedestrians passing by the hospital. "All the victims are civilians," he said in an interview.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said at least two children were among the 10 killed in the strike and warned that the death toll may go up.
Dr. Samah Bassas, CEO of the Syria Relief Network, an umbrella group representing 60 humanitarian organizations working in Syria, had a bleak assessment of the situation.
“Aleppans' options are running out,” she told BuzzFeed News in a statement.
“The bombs we are used to. But if we are to be held under siege, hunger and disease will quickly take hold. Even more death is inevitable. The Russian and Syrian planes attacking us every day must be stopped.”
It was unclear whether Russian or Syrian planes launched the airstrikes. But Syrian Civil Defense, a European-funded rescue group that works throughout rebel-held areas and is nicknamed the White Helmets, claimed the hospitals had been struck by barrel bombs – an improvised and imprecise explosive, contained in barrels and often filled with shrapnel. An Amnesty International report detailed the government's alleged use of these lethal weapons – a charge President Bashar Assad denied to the BBC last year.
Once a commercial and industrial hub, much of Aleppo has been reduced to rubble and ruins after three years of fighting. Government forces, aided by Russian airstrikes, have nearly encircled the rebels' positions, cutting off one of two routes to that lead to Turkey.
Hospitals have increasingly been targeted in the bitter civil conflict. Physicians for Human Rights, an NGO based in New York that monitors conflict around the world, claims more than 700 doctors have been killed in the conflict since it began in 2011. Critics of the Syrian regime accuse it of deliberately targeting hospitals and other crucial civilian infrastructure to render rebel-held areas uninhabitable.