February 1, 2018

Washington, D.C.- Today, at 12 pm local time, the SAMS-supported Kafr Zeita Cave Hospital in northern Hama countryside was targeted by five airstrikes, resulting in heavy material damages. Airstrikes penetrated the roof of the entrance, which consists of six meters of landfill. No casualties were reported.

The hospital was subsequently evacuated, and has been forced to suspend its services. The cave hospital, built into the side of a mountain, provides a range of specialty services, including an orthopedic unit. All treatment is provided free of charge. Monthly, the hospital was providing an average of 1,600 consultations, 140 admissions, 60 major surgeries, and 50 trauma cases.

In 2018, this cave hospital was attacked four times, including as recently as January 30. The hospital was targeted at least six times in 2017 alone.

After mass aerial attacks on hospitals in the Hama countryside in 2014, local medics decided to build the Kafr Zeita Hospital in a cave. The late Dr. Hasan Al-Araj and Dr. Abdullah Darweesh initiated the Central Cave Hospital, which lies under more than 20 meters of pure rock. On April 13, 2016, Dr. Al-Araj was killed when he left the Central Cave Hospital to go on his rounds. As he left the hospital, a missile targeted the ambulance he drove. Rescue workers found parts of his body and his white medical coat in the ambulance remains. He was 46 years old.

Attacks on healthcare infrastructure, and civilian areas, have escalated dramatically in 2018. On Monday, January 29th, at least 11 people were reportedly killed in airstrikes which took place in Saraqeb, Idlib , with a nearby hospital also targeted and subsequently taken out of service. Three medical staff at the hospital were injured, including a SAMS doctor who had been helping out at the overwhelmed hospital. On January 30, an  airstrike impacted a SAMS-supported primary health care center providing obstetric care in Saraqeb, forcing it to suspend its operations.

A similar escalation has occurred in besieged East Ghouta, where today, civilians were impacted by the third chemical attack in the area just this year. Early this morning, the emergency department of a SAMS-supported facility in East Ghouta received three cases of suffocation, including two women and a 16-year-old child. This is the fifth recorded chemical attack in Syria this year.

Both Idlib and East Ghouta are part of the so-called “de-escalation zones,” supposedly established in order to protect civilians from aerial attacks. Idlib is home to 2.6 million Syrians, many of whom were displaced by violence elsewhere.

“We are alarmed by the dramatic escalation of attacks on healthcare and civilian areas in Syria. Chemical attacks continue with impunity, and medical workers continue to risk their lives every day simply by going to work. More than 62,000 people, nearly a quarter of which are children, have fled their homes in Idlib, while international agencies are failing to respond to their needs,” said SAMS President, Dr. Ahmad Tarakji.

SAMS strongly condemns these heinous attacks on healthcare as egregious violations of international law. We call for an immediate cessation of attacks that threaten the lives of civilians, medical workers, and pose a threat to humanitarian operations inside Syria. The international community must come together with concerted action to put an end to these attacks, once and for all.

For media inquiries, please contact SAMS’s Media and Communications Manager, Lobna Hassairi at lobna.hassairi@sams-usa.net.