Russian air strikes in Syria have deliberately targeted field hospitals in strategic opposition-controlled areas of Syria, killing and injuring staffers, disrupting their work and in some cases disabling hospitals altogether, opposition sources in Syria claim.
The head of the opposition-controlled Free Health Directorate of Aleppo, Yasser Darwish, told RFE/RL's correspondent in Syria this week that since the Russian air campaign started on September 30, Russian warplanes had carried out over 40 raids on field hospitals in the southern Aleppo countryside, as well as in Hama and Idlib provinces.
Civilian casualties were reported in Al-Zirba and Al-Hadher in Russian raids on October 15.
Other doctors, including Dr. Muhammad Tennari, the director of Sarmin hospital in Idlib Province, where at least 12 people were killed in an air raid last week, have also claimed that Russia is deliberately targeting medical facilities.
The United States has stopped short of saying Russia is deliberately targeting hospitals. However, the State Department said on October 29 that Washington has information that recent Russian bombing raids have "caused collateral damage" including killing civilians and hitting a hospital.
Meanwhile, pro-Kremlin media have tried to discredit the allegations.
Strategic (Non-IS) Targets
The Russian raids are not targeting Islamic State (IS) areas and are having no impact on IS, Darwish said. Instead, the Russian raids appear intended to help the Syrian government advance against rebel groups.
The southern Aleppo towns where the rebel-controlled field hospitals are located are of strategic significance. Russian strikes there facilitate the Syrian Army's advance into these areas -- as well as ensuring that rebel medical facilities there are damaged.
Al-Eis, where one of the targeted field hospitals is located, is a strategically important town "located on the supply route between Hama and Aleppo [and which] overlooks the Aleppo-Damascus road," according to Colonel Hassan Hamadeh from Brigade 101, a U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army group that is part of the southern Aleppo Fatah Halab operations room.
'No IS In Latamneh'
The field hospital hit by Russian air strikes in the town of Latamneh in Syria's northern province of Hama also has strategic significance.
It is no coincidence that Latamneh was the site of Russia's first air strikes on September 30. The village is located close to the fighting between armed rebels (including the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front) and Western-backed groups -- and pro-government forces.
As the Institute for the Study of War noted in a recent report, the Russian-backed regime's multiple offensives will tie up rebels on multiple fronts and prevent them from reinforcing positions across northwestern Syria.
As in southern Aleppo, the Russian raids are also degrading rebel and opposition-held infrastructure, including field hospitals.
The head of one of Latamneh's field hospitals, Mahmoud El-Muhammad, told RFE/RL last week that the Russian raids on his hospital had injured a number of staffers as well as causing material damage.
The pro-opposition Shaam News Network and other opposition sources reported that air strikes had hit a second field hospital in Latamneh on October 23, wounding three medics and putting the facility out of action.
One of the injured medics died on October 28, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
As with the raids in southern Aleppo, there is no IS presence in Latamneh.
Latamneh "is the northern defense line of Hama city," says Thomas Pierret, an expert on Islam in Syria at the University of Edinburgh. "There is not a single IS guy in Latamneh."
Russian strikes have not only failed to target IS, but in southern Aleppo the extremist group is benefitting from them, making a 10-kilometer advance in northeastern Aleppo on October 9, its largest in the province since August.
Meanwhile, the Russian raids have hit civilian areas as well as opposition targets, according to Abi Bashir Ma'ara of the Noureddine Al-Zinki faction, a "moderate" group close to Saudi Arabia.
An estimated 70,000 Syrians fled their homes in southern Aleppo following the raids and assaults by pro-government troops.