By Umberto Bacchi
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Local communities in Syria are refusing aid agencies permission to open new hospitals out of fear the facilities will draw more bombings to the area, a medical charity said on Friday.
Many hospitals have been hit or damaged during the five-year conflict, prompting opposition groups to say Syrian and Russian forces deliberately target medical buildings.
Mazen Kewara of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), said the charity had backed off from plans to set up at least five field hospitals in opposition-held areas over the past two years, after pressure from the local population.
Several communities were consequently left without direct access to healthcare, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Communities refuse to accept our services inside their cities and villages because of the threat that these areas be targeted because of the existence of our facilities there," Kewara said in an interview.
Although calls to stay out of given areas mostly came from local leaders, in one instance SAMS was denied the right to relocate a bombed hospital by a militia group in Aleppo, said Kewara, SAMS country director for Turkey and northern Syria.
"They are a military group, we are healthcare workers and they believe we are more of a target than them," he said.
Nearly 1,000 people have been killed in attacks on health centers worldwide over the past two years, almost 40 percent of them in Syria, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in May.
Humanitarian groups have repeatedly called for a halt to strikes on medical facilities.
In Syria, the frequency and accuracy of air strikes have been increasing since Russia started its aerial campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September last year, Kewara said.
July was the worst month for attacks on healthcare centres since the beginning of Syria's conflict, with 43 assaults - more than one every day, according to SAMS.
The charity says it supports more than 1,700 healthcare workers and 160 medical facilities across Syria.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)