the home of online investigations

You can support the work of Bellingcat by donating through the following link:

Russia’s Bizarre, Barely Coherent Defence It Didn’t Bomb Hospitals in Syria

February 17, 2016

By Eliot Higgins

Following this weeks earlier attacks on medical facilities in Syria run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) the Russian Defence Ministry has published a statement explaining why it’s not responsible for the attacks. Much of the statement is a mess of barely coherent claims, and reads closer to a conspiracy theory than a statement from a serious organisation. The Russian Defence Ministry attacks MSF, questioning whether or not the facilities actually had anything to do with MSF in the first place;

First of all, it is to be claimed that only Turkish authorities knew about the fact that there had been hospitals of the “Doctors Without Borders” organization in Idlib and Azaz by the previous day. There is no information concerning these establishments anywhere including the website of the “Doctors Without Borders”.

In a Foreign Policy article dated February 16th, Syrian MSF Hospital Kept Location Secret to Avoid Being Bombed, the reason for this is quite clear. Those running the medical facility in Idlib were concerned that sharing the location would more likely make them a target, having seen many other medical facilities attacked in Syria.

The Russian Defence Ministry then moves onto slightly more bizarre accusations:

Moreover, messages concerning the allegedly destroyed hospitals and schools in Azaz dated February 10 can be simply found on the website.

In other words, this fabrication had been prepared but not realized the day before the meeting of the heads of foreign ministries of Russia and the USA in Munich, the results of which, as the Russian Defence Ministry assumes, are so opposed by Turkey.

This appears to refer to articles on the MSF website published on February 10th, Syria: Health system close to collapse in war-torn Azaz district and Syria: Escalation of Conflict in Azaz District Could Have Dire Consequences, which refer to the situation in the Azaz district:

Meanwhile, the fighting continues to put extreme pressure on the already devastated healthcare system. This includes several hospitals and smaller health facilities in Azaz and the rural areas around Aleppo city, having been hit by airstrikes in the last two weeks, including at least three MSF-supported hospitals.

“Azaz district has seen some of the heaviest tolls of this brutal war, and yet again we are seeing healthcare under siege,” said Muskilda Zancada, MSF head of mission, Syria. “We are extremely concerned about the situation in the south of the district, where medical staff, fearing for their lives, have been forced to flee and hospitals have either been completely closed, or can only offer limited emergency services.”

To claim, as the Russian Defence Ministry does, that these reports are fabrications some how accidentally published ahead of time, is frankly bizarre, something you’d expect to see on a badly written conspiracy blog rather than an official statement from any Defence Ministry. Next the Russian Defence Ministry claims:

In the message dated February 15 concerning the allegedly destroyed hospital in Idlib, there is no photo or video of this building: neither undamaged nor destroyed.

Two article on the MSF website were posted on February 15th about the attacks, At Least Seven Killed and Eight Missing in Attack on MSF-Supported Hospital in Northern Syria and MSF-Supported Hospital in Northern Syria Destroyed in Attack, both of which carry photographs of the building destroyed in Idlib:

MSF Idlib

Next, the Russian Defence Ministry raises where the stories are being reported from:

It is to be emphasized one more time: neither Syria, nor Idlib or Aleppo; it was the Turkish city of Gaziantep near the border with Syria.

By the way, that was the city where, by a strange coincidence, the largest training camps had been organized under the aegis of the Turkish secret services for militants arriving into the country from other countries including CIS who were then sent to Syria to fight within terrorist groupings.

If anybody in the Turkish Republic thinks that the Russian party does not guess that, they should not indulge in illusions.

Both messages concerning the allegedly destroyed hospitals and schools in Azaz dated February 10 and Idlib dated February 15 have the same origin – “Gaziantep. Turkey”.

This seems to refer to location the MSF articles are filed from, which seems to have confused the Russian Defence Ministry. As with many articles, the location of where the story is filed from is reported, in fact on one of the February 15th articles the location is Gaziantep/Paris. To imagine this is indicative of some sort of conspiracy is yet another bizarre statement by the Russian Defence Ministry. The Russian Defence Ministry finishes with:

The information concerning the place where these fabrications had been made has been published, apparently due to negligence of authors or editors of the website.

It’s unclear whether or not the Russian Defence Ministry actually believes this absolute nonsense, or have reached the point of being so desperate to deflect criticism that they make up any rubbish to defend themselves, even if it’s laughable conspiracy theories about MSF and Turkey plotting against them.

Eliot Higgins

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

Join the Bellingcat Mailing List:

Enter your email address to receive a weekly digest of Bellingcat posts, links to open source research articles, and more.

315 Comments

  1. Randy Dread

    wait a minute.

    Enemy medical and religious personnel shall be respected and protected and shall not be made the object of attack, unless such personnel, when checked, have committed acts which go beyond their professional (medical or religious) duties and if they refrain from taking part in hostilities; if the said persons observe the established identification rules

    what established identification rules did the personnel of this secret hospital in Idlib observe?

    please tell me how they identified themselves.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      My fault…
      …this is from a military manual so, this passage regards military doctors and military chaplains… who have the same military uniform and have to distinguish themselves as “non combatant” by wearing protective symbols…

      Reply
  2. Randy Dread

    Andrea – February 18th, 2016
    So it’s a war…well…then…IHL applies to all the factions fighting each other…

    No it doesn’t. It doesn’t apply to terrorist groups.

    Reply
    • GJR

      It still applies to civilians.

      Law or no law, it’s not from a moral high ground that one says it’s acceptable to bomb a hospital.

      Reply
      • Randy Dread

        you dont notify anyone its a hospital, you get what you deserve for being such an idiot and not caring about anyones safety.

        Reply
        • Andrea

          so any house in syria has to put on their roof a marking in order to avoid being bombed?
          Seems logic !

          Reply
        • GJR

          It’s because they cared about the safety of their charges that they didn’t notify the Syrian government. The hospitals had a funny way of being targeted when they did so.
          I suppose you’re the type who also blames the woman who was raped because she shouldn’t have been out so late.

          Reply
          • Randy Dread

            well in that cae they are bloody idiots, because not a single hospital officially notified to the Syrian authorities has been bombed.

          • Randy Dread

            bombing any building to win the war unless it is identified as a hospital etc.

            not that a bunch of cowards like the Italians know about winning wars, of course.

          • GJR

            You remind me of several of the commentors from RT. You drag out an invalid point until even you can no longer defend it and then you resort to insults.

          • Andrea

            Yes, then you bomb a church, a school, a power plant, a couple water facilities…then when the war is over don’t expect others helping you rebuild them 😉

        • Iain

          I tell you what keyboard warrior, i live in the uk. How about you tell me where and when and we see what you’ve got to back up all the talk?

          Reply
        • Rick

          Randy Clown!!!!
          You are living in a world of conspiracies. Everyone who disagrees with Assad or Putin are terrorists. Russia has taken sides in a civil war. Decided to kill a few doctors.. they mean nothing to Putin. Like almost 300 lost souls of MH17. You are supporting a murderer

          Reply
  3. Randy Dread

    GJR – February 18th, 2016
    Who told you that? The Syrian authorities?

    No, I think I got that from foreignpolicy.com who did an article about the bombing in Idlib.

    If i recall correctly, they said MSF has 3 locations notfied to the authorities in Syria, which have not been bombed.

    And another 147, none of which have been notified, some of which have been bombed.

    as i’ve said many times, if they are bombed it’s tough titty.

    Reply
    • GJR

      The FP article linked above includes this little nugget:

      “In a phone call with Foreign Policy on Tuesday, Fabrice Weissman, director of research at MSF’s Center for Reflection on Humanitarian Action and Knowledge, said that the Syrian doctors working at the clinic in the northwestern town of Maarat al-Numan had been attacked multiple times in recent years and believed they were protecting themselves by refusing to reveal their location to forces carrying out airstrikes in the region.”

      Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, eh Randy?

      Reply
      • Randy Dread

        So they say. Did they notify the authorities of the locations of their previous alleged clinics?

        Reply
          • Randy Dread

            no, it’s the hospitals who need to give their location to the authorities unless they want their patients killed.

            i guess since they are Islamists having the patients killed for the greater good is cool anyway.

  4. Randy Dread

    GJR – February 18th, 2016
    The FP article linked above includes this little nugget:

    I didn’t give a link.

    Reply
  5. Randy Dread

    Goodnight all.

    And just as a reminder, here is why no country from Europe will ever mess with Russia’s friend, China.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      A million guys with zero combat experience…who spend more time learning party songs and reharsing marches rather than actually training for real action…
      And remember that china doesn’t have an army…it’s the army of the comunist party…so high ranks are more “politicians” rather than military experts 😉

      Reply
      • Randy Dread

        yeah yeah. you Italian cowards would be putting your tanks into reverse in a second.

        you surrendered en masse in world war 2, to my nation, and the Americans.

        biggest cowards on the planet, I’d be ashamed to be an Italian with their record.

        Reply
        • Test

          Randy. Move to Russia. You enjoy all the freedoms of the west without suffering the blows of those in the east. You’re a man without a country and a coward to yourself. It’s what you are. A coward.

          Reply
    • Sam

      Europe and the US are better trade partners with China, than Russia. China just want’s Russian natural resources for a cheap price, military tech, and eventually part of the land when Russia falls apart from being an incompetent petro-state.

      The West didn’t humiliate Russia, the Russians humiliated themselves. And still do.

      Randy, you aren’t even a competent troll, but I figure you get paid per comment, not per good comment.

      Reply
  6. Randy Dread

    Even your Nazi allies despised you and regarded you as unreliable.

    so I ask, where does this Italian pride come from?

    Italians behave like little bitches when it comes to war.

    Reply
  7. Randy Dread

    Just to be clear, the historical record shows that Italian troops piss their pants and run away or surrender should there be any serious military altercation.

    Reply
      • Randy Dread

        are you disputing that the Italians were in fact cowards and did in fact surrender?

        because those things are fact

        Reply
        • Andrea

          We fought till last men in north africa, we fought germans while they were taking revenge on the civilians at our home…very coward indeed…
          You brits were just saved by uncle sam while hiding like pussies in your island…we had our ranks full of italian citizens proud of their nation…not needed to send people from the commonwhealt being slaughtered…

          Reply
          • Randy Dread

            ha ha what lies, you surrendered like little babies to the British in North Africa.

            this is historical fact, dont embarass yourself.

          • Randy Dread

            Italians did not fight the Germans because as everyone knows you were the allies of the Germans.

            You helped them put the Jews on the trains to the gas chambers.

            We, the British, defeated you, and your German allies.

            We did it because you and you allies were comitting crimes against humanity.

          • Andrea

            Until americans joined the war the axis was kicking asses in North Africa … so UK (alone at that time) was being beaten…you needed battalions of non UK soldiers (from colonies) and americans to be able to achieve something…
            Don’t be proud of something doesn’t belong to you…
            Have you ever heard that italy signed the armistice in september 1943…and was liberated only on in may 1945…21 months while german troops were attacked by italian partisans: simple guys whose families were raped or slaughtered as retaliation…who knows what the mighty brits would have been able to do…

        • Test

          Randy I doubt you’ve ever been in a fight in your life. You talk of armies and wars like you have the faintest idea of what it entails because you’ve played too much call of duty. You’re knocking on 40 years old minimum and you are mouthing off like a child. Seriously, it’s absolutely pathetic.

          Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

You can support the work of Bellingcat by donating through the following link:

TRUST IN JOURNALISM - IMPRESS