Further evidence emerges of Russia’s systematic targeting of hospitals in Syria

Recently surfaced videos give additional open-source

Further evidence emerges of Russia’s systematic targeting of hospitals in Syria

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Recently surfaced videos give additional open-source evidence of Russian military targeting Syrian hospitals

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov discussing the Iskander missile system. (Source: ria.ru/archive)

Two newly surfaced videos provide additional open-source evidence of Russian military forces systematically targeting hospitals in Syria.

Russian officials have consistently denied the evidence of this systematic bombing campaign. These videos, however, show additional proof of how the Russian military targets civilian infrastructure in Syria, a practice that has been well-documented by The New York Times, and which the DFRLab has been covering since 2016.

Strike on Azaz hospital

Both videos surfaced in February and March 2021 on Russian media outlets and YouTube. Reverse image searches suggest that these videos had not been uploaded previously.

The first video was posted by the Russian Ministry of Defense in response to a recent claim by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, which his office later blamed on an improper briefing, that the Russian-made Iskander missiles procured by Armenia proved faulty amid the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. Pashinyan said in an interview that only 10 percent of Iskander missiles procured by Armenia exploded upon impact and a potential reason is that the missile is old technology, designed in the 1980s. The Russian Ministry of Defense reacted to these statements with “bewilderment and surprise,” stating that the Iskander missiles are “best in their class.”

As evidence, the ministry posted drone footage of successful attacks using Iskanders on undisclosed locations.

One of these locations, however, was identified by online researcher @obretix as the hospital in Azaz, Syria. The researcher suggested that this video shows Iskander missiles hitting the Azaz hospital in the territory of Aleppo in February 2016. The hospital was one of several targets during the attack, in which more than 50 people were killed. Involvement in these attacks was denied by Russian military officials back in 2016, despite accusations and documentation from NGOs and researchers.

Geolocation of these videos confirmed that the target was Azaz hospital.

Geolocation of the Iskander missile hitting the Azaz hospital in 2016. The blue marker shows the point of impact and the purple line marks the front of the building. (Source: @Archer83Able/archive, left; Google Maps, right)

Photos of the damaged hospital building can be found on social media. Turkey has helped to rebuild the hospital, which was fully reopened in 2020.

The damage of Iskander missile is also visible on Google Maps satellite imagery, as black residue of fire can be seen on the ground next to the point of impact.

Comparison of satellite imagery between October 2015 and March 2016 shows the area of impact, marked with green lines. (Source: GoogleMaps)

Attack on Al Maghara hospital in Kafr Zita

The second video was published on Russian military TV channel Telekanal Zvezda on March 1, 2021, showing the demolition of an underground hospital in the Kafr Zita region. The video was included in a news report showing recent military developments in Syria. The Al Maghara hospital, which was built in a cave to safeguard from aerial raids, had been abandoned due to damage it when the hospital was targeted by Russian bunker-busting bombs in February 2018.

In the video that surfaced on March 1, 2021, Russian soldiers explain that this hospital was established in 2015 by the rebels to provide medical care in the region, where fierce fighting was happening. The video continues to show Russian soldiers setting up charges and destroying the abandoned, yet still intact facility so it would not be used in the future.

Video showing the destruction of a field hospital in the area of Idlib by Russian soldiers. (Source: Телеканал Звезда/archive)

Russian soldiers demolished this underground facility, ensuring that it would never be used again. Geolocation of the video confirmed that this destroyed facility was the Al Maghara hospital in Kafr Zita.

Geolocation of the demolished Al Maghara hospital in Kafr Zita. (Source: Телеканал Звезда/archive, left; GoogleMaps, right)

Lukas Andriukaitis is an Associate Director with the Digital Forensic Research Lab.

Follow along for more in-depth analysis from our #DigitalSherlocks.