By Tom Miles
GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations on Tuesday condemned a recent wave of air strikes on medical centers in rebel-held parts of Syria including one that put a hospital serving 50,000 people out of action.
The Syrian government, which is backed by Russian air power in its almost seven-year-long war with rebels, says it only targets militants and has repeatedly denied striking civilian facilities such as hospitals.
"I am appalled by the ongoing attacks on hospitals and other medical facilities in northwestern Syria, depriving hundreds of thousands of people of their basic right to health," said Panos Moumtzis, U.N. regional coordinator for the Syria crisis.
Syria's war shows no sign of ending and a peace conference hosted by Russia on Tuesday was marred by discord.
On Monday, two air strikes damaged the 18-bed Owdai Hospital in Saraqib city in rebel-held Idlib governorate supported by the aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières, killing at least five people, including a child, and injuring six.
The hospital, which experienced a near miss that blew out windows on Jan. 21, was hit while receiving people wounded in an air strike on Saraqib´s main market, which the United Nations said had killed at least 16 people.
It was the fourth time in 10 days that air strikes had caused major structural damage to a hospital in Saraqib, said Moumtzis. An air attack also wrecked a medical center serving at least 10,000 people in Aleppo governorate on the same day.
"The loss of the provision of these medical services, including surgical and reproductive health services, will have a staggering effect on vulnerable communities affected by this conflict," he said in a statement.
In 2017, there were 112 verified attacks on health facilities in Syria, and there had been at least 13 so far this year, according to Moumtzis.
A separate U.N. report said 272,345 people had been displaced between Dec. 15 and Jan. 24 in Idlib governorate, and health organizations there were being stretched to the limit.
It described heavy fighting between rebels and Syrian government forces in the eastern part of the governorate, mainly around the town of Abul Thohur and its air base, with numerous civilian casualties and "high levels of psychosocial distress among girls, boys, women and men".
Saraqib's town council has declared a disaster zone and called on the international community to intervene, the U.N. report said.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; editing by Mark Heinrich)