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U.N. report: Gov't forces, allies behind attacks on Syria medical centers

People search for survivors in the debris of a hospital that was destroyed by suspected Russian airstrikes near Maaret al-Numan, in Syria's northern province of Idlib, on February 15, 2016. File Photo by Omar Haj Kadour/UPI
People search for survivors in the debris of a hospital that was destroyed by suspected Russian airstrikes near Maaret al-Numan, in Syria's northern province of Idlib, on February 15, 2016. File Photo by Omar Haj Kadour/UPI | License Photo

April 7 (UPI) -- A new United Nations report accuses Syrian government forces and its allies of targeting attacks on healthcare facilities in the nation's heavily contested northwest.

The report examines a number of attacks on schools, hospitals and other healthcare facilities since September 2017. The documents said it's "highly probable" the Syrian government or allied forces were involved in three of seven attacks it investigated.

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The report added that Damascus "plausibly" acted alone in one other case and it's "highly probable" it did so in another.

A February report by Physicians for Human Rights also blamed the regime of President Bashar al-Assad -- and Russia, Damascus' chief military ally -- for the bulk of attacks against Syrian healthcare facilities. That report said there were nearly 600 attacks on health facilities that killed almost 1,000 medical workers between 2011 and February.

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The U.N. report does not explicitly identify Russia, experts say possibly to avoid offending the Kremlin, but it strongly suggests Moscow's involvement.

"On a charitable reading, this summary contains enough oblique and tentative statements confirming the Syrian government and Russians' responsibility," said Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group. "On a less charitable reading, this is an effort to minimize offending Moscow that reflects the fact that U.N. officials believe that continued cooperation with Russia is key to the future of humanitarian operations in Syria."

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Syria's civil war between Assad's forces and rebel factions has been going for nearly a decade and is believed to have killed nearly 600,000 people -- about 20 percent of whom were civilians.

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