The Latest: Aid group says hospitals strained in Aleppo

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the civil war in Syria (all times local):

8 p.m.

Doctors Without Borders says the two hospitals bombed in rebel-held eastern Aleppo have been forced to halt all activities, leaving just two hospitals with the ability to carry out surgery in a city experiencing “a brutal and relentless onslaught from air and land.”

A statement from the international charity, also known by its French acronym MSF, says both hospitals hit by airstrikes earlier Wednesday were severely damaged, causing the death of at least two patients and wounding two medics.

MSF says four of the eight hospitals left in eastern Aleppo had surgical capacity prior to Wednesday’s attacks on the two hospitals, which the group supports.

Carlos Francisco, MSF’s head of mission for Syria, says that “according to different medical sources, there are only seven surgical doctors left in the area, serving an estimated population of 250,000.”

He adds that “east Aleppo has been under siege since July and is suffering the bloodiest indiscriminate bombing since the beginning of the war.”


7:30 p.m.

The head of Doctors Without Borders says people in Aleppo are being taken off life support in order to treat a “multitude” of wounded and that doctors “await their own deaths.”

Joanna Liu says “the unrelenting assault on Aleppo by Russian and Syrian forces over recent days with no evacuations possible and bodies unburied” demonstrates that the conduct of war today is becoming “a race to the bottom.”

She said a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in May which demands that all parties to conflicts protect staff and facilities treating the wounded and sick has failed to produce any effect on the ground — in Syria or other conflict areas.

Addressing a council meeting Wednesday on health care in armed conflict, Liu blamed “a lack of political will among member states fighting in coalitions, and those who enable them.”

She urged the council “to immediately enact the absolute prohibition of attacks on medical facilities.”


6:50 p.m.

An official says Turkey is set to complete the construction of a concrete wall along the 911-kilometer (566-mile) Turkey-Syria border by the end of February.

The Housing Development Administration of Turkey will be building the remaining 700-kilometers of the border wall, according to an official at the administration. The wall construction has been ongoing for at least two years and was led by the Ministry of National Defense.

The official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity according to government protocol, said the walls are two meters (6½ feet) wide and three meters (10 feet) high. The construction will be completed in five months but delays may be caused by weather conditions, according to the official.

Turkey has long been pressured by its NATO allies as well as by security threats to seal its porous border with Syria.

—by Zeynep Bilginsoy


6:45 p.m.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon says the situation in rebel-held parts of Aleppo is worse than a “slaughterhouse” and implicitly accuses Syria and Russia of committing war crimes.

He spoke to a U.N. Security Council meeting Wednesday on health care in armed conflict as two more hospitals were struck in the city’s besieged east.

Without naming countries, Ban said “those using ever more destructive weapons know exactly what they are doing — they know they are committing war crimes.”

The Syrian government announced the offensive to retake rebel-held eastern Aleppo, and the only countries carrying out airstrikes are Syria and Russia.

Ban said “hospitals, clinics, ambulances and medical staff in Aleppo are under attack around the clock.”

He said there must be “action,” and “accountability,” saying “international law is clear. Medical workers, facilities and transport must be protected. The wounded and sick, civilians and fighters alike, must be spared. Deliberate attacks on hospitals are war crimes.”


6:15 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is threatening to cut off all contacts with Moscow over Syria, unless Russian and Syrian government attacks on Aleppo end.

The State Department says Kerry issued the ultimatum in a Wednesday telephone call to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Kerry’s spokesman, John Kirby, says Kerry expressed grave concern over Russian and Syrian government attacks on hospitals, water supplies and other civilian infrastructure in Aleppo.

He says Kerry told Lavrov that the U.S. holds Russia responsible for the use of incendiary and bunker-buster bombs in an urban area.

Kerry told Lavrov the U.S. was preparing to “suspend U.S.-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria,” including on a proposed counterterrorism partnership, “unless Russia takes immediate steps to end the assault on Aleppo” and restore a cease-fire.


3:45 p.m.

An international relief NGO says bombardment is the leading cause of forced displacement in Syria.

In a study published Wednesday, France-based Handicap International called the widespread use of shelling, rocket fire, and bombardment the “overriding factor” behind the tidal wave of displacement that has characterized the Syrian war.

The report cited interviews with refugees and patterns of bombardment and fatalities.

The U.N. says the 5 ½-year war has driven some 11 million Syrians from their homes.

Handicap International says many are fleeing the fear of injury and death, destruction to their homes and businesses, and infrastructure collapse.

It attributes over 60 percent of the civilian fatalities in Syria to explosive weapons.


11:45 a.m.

Pope Francis has decried the assault on the Syrian city of Aleppo, saying those responsible for the bombing must answer to God.

Francis said at his public audience Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square that he’s “united in suffering through prayer and spiritual closeness” to Aleppo’s people. He expressed “deep pain and strong worry for what’s happening,” saying “children and elderly … everyone is dying.”

He called for utmost efforts to protect civilians in Syria’s civil war, raging since 2011. Francis said: “I appeal to the consciences of those responsible for the bombing that they must give a reckoning to God” for their actions.

The Syrian government and its Russian allies have unleashed a major assault on the ancient city.


11:30 a.m.

Medical officials say airstrikes have severely damaged two hospitals in eastern rebel-held Aleppo, leading to the death of two seriously ill patients.

The airstrikes early Wednesday hit the M2 and M10 hospitals, knocking out generators and cutting off water supplies, putting them temporarily out of service.

Mohammed Abu Rajab, head of M10 hospital, the largest of eight hospitals in eastern Aleppo, says two patients died because they could not be kept alive. He says the intensive care unit was severely damaged.

Adham Sahloul, of the Syrian American Medical Society, based in Gaziantep, Turkey, confirmed the strikes and described them as deliberate. He says government forces know the location of both facilities.

The closures leave eastern Aleppo with six functioning hospitals, only three of which are capable of dealing with emergencies

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