The Syrian regime bombarded a camp hosting displaced people and a maternity hospital in the country’s northwest on Wednesday, killing at least 16 people, the vast majority of whom were women and children.
Dozens were injured and at least eight children and two women were thought to have been among those killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Large parts of the camp were burnt and several fire brigades were called to the scene, with rescuers warning on Thursday that the death toll was expected to rise as more people succumbed to severe burn injuries.
The regime fired at least two ground-to-ground missiles, which caused “significant damage to the camp as well as the burning of tents of displaced people”, SOHR reported.
The attack raised the total death in Idlib province to at least 4,557 people since April 2019, when attacks against the enclave intensified, it said.
“Attacking one of the most densely packed IDP [internally displaced person] camps in Syria, full of children, is beyond sadistic,” said Dr Hussam Al Fakir, chairman of the Paris-based aid group Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations.
“The internally displaced people in these camps had been forced to flee their homes, and were now living in terrible conditions, many for years.
“To attack a refugee camp is cowardly and truly kicks civilians when they are down.”
Hanan*, 27, lives in the camp with her three children and teaches at a school supported by Save The Children. She described hearing “loud explosions” when the missiles struck.
“The power went off. I felt dust covering us as I lay over my children to protect them. I saw fire burning outside and noticed that the roof made of tarpaulin was gone.
“I ran outside with my children to look for shelter and saw our neighbours being taken out of the rubble, with body parts strewn around,” she told the aid agency.
She said she later found out that one of her students was killed in the attack.
Mark Cutts, the United Nations’ deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, said he was “appalled” by the reports.
“I find it sickening that missiles hit vulnerable civilians, including elderly people, women and children sheltering in tents and makeshift shelters in a camp for internally displaced people. This horrific incident needs to be fully investigated,” he said.
The attack on Qah camp, in Idlib province, came just hours after an airstrike in nearby Maaret al-Numan that killed six civilians.
Home to about 3 million people, Idlib is the last remaining area in Syria still held by opposition groups and is dominated by the al-Qaeda-linked faction Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
Aid agencies have been raising the alarm over humanitarian conditions in the enclave, with civilians unable to flee over the border to Turkey and left trapped in the crosshairs of regime bombs and attacks by warring rebels.
The Syrian American Medical Society (Sams), which operates health facilities in Idlib, said in a statement that the missiles exploded just 25 metres away from one of its maternity hospitals, injuring four of its staff members.
The hospital sustained considerable material damage, Sams said, causing the medical staff to evacuate patients to nearby facilities.
“We are appalled by this egregious disregard for human life,” said the society’s president, Dr Mufaddal Hamadeh.
“Sams strongly condemns all attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including attacks on health facilities.”
Since that time there have been 65 attacks on 47 health facilities, Sams said.
The latest round of hostilities shows that the fragile, nearly three-month truce has collapsed amid intensified violence in and around Idlib province, with shelling and airstrikes killing and wounding dozens of people in recent days.
*Names have been changed to protect identities