Turkey retaliates in northern Syria for Afrin hospital attack

Artillery attacks that killed 15 people and wounded several others in nearby Afrin, including in a hospital, were blamed by Ankara on the Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters.
Monday 14/06/2021
A man walks through a heavily damaged hospital in the city of Afrin, Syria, June 13, 2021. (AFP)
A man walks through a heavily damaged hospital in the city of Afrin, Syria, June 13, 2021. (AFP)

ISTANBUL --Turkey’s military hit targets in the northern Syrian town of Tel Rifat in response to artillery attacks that killed 15 people and wounded several others in nearby Afrin, state-run Anadolu agency said on Sunday.

Ankara blamed Saturday’s attacks, including on a hospital, on the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US-backed militia force spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG, has said it was not responsible.

Anadolu said Turkish armed forces, which have a large presence in northern Syria, struck “terrorist targets” in the town. At an earlier news conference, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “We will hold these cowards accountable for every drop of blood they spilled.”

Turkey regards the YPG as a terrorist group tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) inside its own borders and has staged incursions into Syria in support of Syrian rebels to push it from the Turkish frontier. 

 Heavy damage 

Al-Shifaa hospital, hit by the artillery strike, is in the northern town of Afrin, in an area controlled by Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters.

Much of the ceiling of the facility collapsed and electricity cables dangled in a main corridor. The delivery room, the children’s section, and the first aid hall suffered the most, leaving hospital beds covered with rubble.

Blood stained the floor of one debris-filled room, while a mangled wheelchair and a soiled stretcher were piled up in an operating theatre.

The hospital director, Dr Hussam Adnan, said two shells damaged the maternity ward and the surgery unit, while a rocket hit the clinics. The hospital had been crowded at the time of the shelling and patients and the wounded were evacuated to other hospitals.

“This was a condemned terrorist act that targeted civilians,” said Adnan, adding that the hospital serves the town of Afrin and its countryside, an area home to about 350,000 people. Over 350 births take place every month at the hospital, all free of charge, he said.

Adnan and the Syrian American Medical Association (SAMS), an aid group that assists health centres in opposition areas, said two hospital staff members were killed. It also said 11 of its staff were injured, including a midwife seriously.

SAMS called for an investigation into the attack, adding that the coordinates for the hospital, also financed by USAID and the United Nations, had been shared as part of a UN-led mechanism to unwind the conflict.

 Condemning violence 

In a statement, the US State Department condemned the attack, saying it was part of a recent escalation of violence in the area. It called for a nationwide cease-fire in Syria.

“This barbaric attack took the lives of children, medical staff and first responders. Civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, must never be the target of military action,” it said.

The International Rescue Committee also condemned the shelling on Afrin that put Al-Shifaa hospital out of service and killed civilians and medical staff.

“We utterly condemn this deadly attack on Al-Shifaa Hospital, one of the largest medical facilities in northern Syria,” said IRC’s Syria director Wolfgang Gressmann.

“This is the 11th attack on health care that has been recorded so far this year and brings the total number of verified attacks on health care since January 2019 to 124.”

The IRC said the attack completely destroyed the emergency room and the labour and delivery rooms.

“The hospital is now out of service,” the statement said.

“It is vital that these attacks stop.”

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory, Saturday’s artillery fire originated from northern Aleppo province where militias backing Iran and the Syrian regime are deployed near a region run by Kurdish forces.

Turkey and allied Syrian fighters took control of Afrin in 2018 in an operation that expelled local Kurdish fighters and displaced thousands of Kurdish residents. Ankara considers the Kurdish fighters who were in control of Afrin to be terrorists. Since then, there have been several attacks on Turkish targets in the area.