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Fact-Checking Russia’s Claim that It Didn’t Bomb Another Hospital in Syria

November 9, 2016

By Eliot Higgins

Translations: Русский

In late September and early October 2016 reports of Russian and Syrian airstrikes hitting Al-Sakhour hospital, also known at the M10 hospital, in eastern Aleppo [map link] began appearing online. This included reports from local news agencies posted on social media, reports from the Syrian American Medical Society, and videos showing what was claimed to be damage to the hospital. The claims were also published by various media organisations, including AFP,  Euronews, SkyNewsArabia and Al Jazeera.

On October 25th 2016 the Russian Ministry of Defence gave a briefing where they presented imagery that they claimed proved the hospital had not been attacked at all during that period, specifically referring to the EuroNews coverage of the attack:

An image taken from space on September 24, or before the date of the alleged bombardment, features the Sahour hospital. No changes to the facility can be observed on another image taken on October 11 [note, the image used by the Russian MoD is titled October 22nd, not October 11th], or after the alleged air strike. This fact proves that all accusations of indiscriminate strikes voiced by some alleged eyewitnesses turn out to be mere fakes.

Using open source information, satellite imagery, and information gathered from local groups it is possible to establish whether or not the hospital was targeted during that period.

September 28th

The first attack on the hospital was recorded in a SAMS incident report on September 28th:

M10 hospital

2016-09-28 Aleppo city: the Russian / regime air force targeted M10 hospital by air to surface missile.

There were no martyrs or injures.

There were hug material damages to the hospital (structure, doors, windows, generators, oxygen network and Fuel tanks)

Bellingcat was unable to identify any videos or photographs posted on open sources, but was able to acquire photographs (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13) of what is claimed to be the aftermath of the attack from local activists. It is possible to establish the location the photographs are taken as just west of the main hospital building:

september-28th-geolocation

Digital Globe/NextView License

It should be noted some of the damage can been seen on images predating the attack. For example in imagery from 2013, shown below, it is possible to see the open area visible in the photographs was in fact covered by a four sided roof, which is absent in later imagery:

roof-2013

In imagery from 2014 it is also possible to see one of the buildings visible in the photographs had already partly collapsed over two years before the reported attack:

collapsed-building

A comparison of the area in satellite images taken on September 25th 2016 and October 1st 2016 (after the second reported attack on the hospital) shows a small amount of damage to the structures surrounding the photographs taken after the reported September 28th attack (source – Digital Globe/NextView License):

Two covered areas near the building are visible in the September 25th imagery that are no longer visible or damaged in the post attack imagery:

sept-28th-roofed-area

Digital Globe/NextView License

sept-28th-covered-area

Digital Globe/NextView License

These changes are more clearly visible between the September 25th and October 13th satellite imagery, which indicates the hospital compound was damaged on September 28th, as claimed. (Source – Digital Globe/NextView License)

October 1st

On October 1st a second attack targeting the hospital was reported. The SAMS incident report for the incident described the attack:

The regime /Russian air force targeted Alshkhor neighborhood and M10 hospital by different types of weapons (Barrel bombs, phosphor bombs, cluster bombs, vacuum missile) between 11am to 1pm.

Two patients of the hospital were martyred and 13 civilians were injured.

A huge material damages were caused to all hospital parts. One service car were also damaged.

The hospital went completely out of work.

The SAMS incident report also states 2 patients were killed and 13 injuries among patients, staff, and others.

Multiple videos of the aftermath of the attack were shared online, showing the victims of the attack, damage to the building and surrounding area, and remains of a cluster munition:

A video report from Al Jazeera Arabic gives a better sense of the area, first showing the south side of the main hospital building, the east side, then the north courtyard:

Another video filmed closer to the time of the attack shows the damage in the same area as the above video:

In the above video it is claimed the district was also attacked with chlorine gas, and the Al Jazeera Arabic video also mentions chlorine gas being used:

Al-Sakhour field hospital was targeted by seven attacks in the early morning of October 1st 2016. Three cluster bombs and two ……rockets and two barrel bombs which contained chlorine gas. The yellow spot there is the place where the barrel bomb containing chlorine gas was dropped, as stated by the doctors working in Al-Sakhour hospital. The other hole is where the cluster bomb hit, which also resulted in big damage. This hole is where the [Ertijaji rocket] hit right in front the main door of the emergency section. As a result of this attack the emergency section is completely out of service. A big hole resulted because of this rocket, big damage and two casualties which were injured and being treated in the hospital. There’s big destruction inside the hospital. Also there is big destruction next to the backdoor of the hospital as a result of a second [ertijaji rocket] which hit the back building of this hospital. The dead bodies of the patients who came to the hospital to be treated are still here. There’s big damage inside the hospital, and it’s completely out of service as a result of these seven attacks. The hospital is being emptied now, the other patients and injured people are being transferred to another hospital but the question is if the other hospital is a safe place for those injured people.

Areas featured in the video can be geolocated. A large crater features in many of the videos from the attack, including the video from Al Jazeera Arabic which allows us to establish the position of the crater. The Al Jazeera Arabic video begins on the southeast corner of the hospital, which can be established in the following shot:

south-side-m10

The camera turns to face north, showing the hospital on the left side of the image, the crater in the centre of the image, and the tree lined street:

streetview-m10-east-side

The below comparison between the September 25th and October 1st imagery shows the damage to the area, including the crater appearing on the treelined street:

Despite the proximity of the crater to the main building it appears most of the significant damage was done to external structures, including the wall of the hospital compound. However, other footage shows damage to other locations around the hospital compound, supporting the claim multiple munitions were used to attack the site. In one shot a damaged ambulance is visible, next to a damaged building:

ambulance

Another shot in the same video shows the ambulance again, this time in the background of a shot showing more damage to the same street:

ambulance-2

A shot from another video provides a reverse angle on this scene, showing the rear of the white car:

white-car-reverse

In another video filmed next to the crater in the street east of the hospital it is possible to see the same buildings visible in the above view:

comparison-2

This establishes the location of the damaged buildings and vehicles as a street to the north of the hospital compound. In October 13th imagery of the location a vehicle is visible, highlighted in red below, in the same position as the ambulance visible in the video, and likely the same vehicle:

hospital-street

Digital Globe/NextView License

From the above images and videos it is clear damage to the site is not limited to the area east of the hospital building, supporting claims the area was attacked using multiple munitions.

Videos and photographs (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12) show the remains of a RBK-500 PTAB-1M cluster bomb:

img-20161027-wa0000 img-20161027-wa0003 img-20161027-wa0004img-20161027-wa0001

This type of cluster bomb would not have caused the large crater seen to the east of the hospital, but could have caused some of the more widespread damage seen around the attack site. It is not possible to say for certain what munitions caused the range of damage seen at the site, but from the damage to the site, and comparison between the September 25th and October 1st satellite imagery it is possible to say the damage and imagery supports the claims of an attack on the site on October 1st.

October 3rd

On October 3rd another attack was reported. The SAMS incident report for the incident contained the following details:

M10 hospital was targeted by air to surface missile three of the hospital workers were martyred and 2 medical staff were injured (nurse and paramedic).

More damages were caused to the hospital.

The moment of the bombing was caught on security cameras inside and outside the hospital building. The following video shows the moment of the bombing captured by four cameras synced by the Bellingcat team:

Footage filmed on October 3rd shows the aftermath of the attack, showing various locations in and around the hospital:

The above imagery from the attacks, and imagery from earlier attacks, can be used to establish the location of damage to the hospital buildings. One camera can be shown to be filming the courtyard area to the north side of the main hospital building by comparing it to the October 1st Al Jazeera Arabic footage of the area:

aja-comparison

The below image shows a comparison to the area before and after the October 3rd airstrike, clearly showing the scale of damage done to the area:

The damage shown in the AMC video of the area in and around the hospital can be shown to match the damage shown in the above security camera footage:

amc-security

Two shots in the AMC October 3rd video shows damage to the east side of the building:

east-side-oct-3rd

This east facing camera position can be confirmed by comparing it with footage from previous attacks, for example the below image from the October 1st attack with the camera positioned facing eastwards from the northern courtyard area heavily damaged in the October 3rd account, and visible in the above security camera footage:

courtyard-comparison

In the Al Jazeera Arabic footage of the building filmed on October 1st the east wall can be clearly seen between 33-36s, showing the wall did not have anywhere near the level of damage visible in the above imagery. Based on the damage seen in the security camera video of the north courtyard and the damage done to the east wall of the main hospital building it is clear the explosion came from an area east of the building.

Images provided by local activists and journalists show the east side of the building, including damage done to the building and a large crater visible. The yellow walled room shown below, exposed by the bombing, is the same room shown in the above video from AMC:

img_8480-small img_8473-small img_8487-small

A comparison of October 1st and October 13th satellite imagery shows the crater covering the location of the smaller crater seen in October 1st imagery:

Another photograph taken after the October 3rd bombing shows the same location featured in a second security camera showing the outside of the building during the bombing. A comparison of the two images shows clear damage to the hospital building:

comparison-of-west-side

It is possible to establish this location as the west side of the main hospital building by comparing details to other images from the area, for example the security camera footage of the north courtyard:

west-side-comparison

More footage showing the damage to the west side of the building can be found here, and other footage shows damage to the north courtyard area, with the camera facing towards the west of the courtyard:

Additional footage shows the inside of the building after the explosion, including footage showing the basement area visible in security camera footage filmed during the attack. A comparison of the videos confirms the location of the security camera:

basement-camera-comparison

Damage to the area can also be seen in the below video, showing an external wall has partially collapsed. This area is not filmed in videos relating to the October 1st attack, but it appears likely this damage was caused in the October 3rd attack based on the security camera footage:

It is clear from the above imagery,  and comparison between that and imagery from earlier attacks, that the M10 hospital was attacked for a 3rd time, resulting in significant damage to the main hospital building.

Russian Ministry of Defence claims

In the Russian Ministry of Defence’s October 25th briefing imagery was presented of the hospital, which the Russian Ministry of Defence claimed was recorded on September 24th and October 22nd:

russian-mod-imagery

These images are notably poorer quality than those acquired by Bellingcat from commercial satellite imagery provider Digital Globe, but lead the Russian Ministry of Defence to conclude:

No changes to the facility can be observed on another image taken on October 11, or after the alleged air strike. This fact proves that all accusations of indiscriminate strikes voiced by some alleged eyewitnesses turn out to be mere fakes.

It is quite clear from the wealth of evidence presented above that the Russian Ministry of Defence’s allegation of fakery is entirely false, and the M10 hospital was damaged in attacks on multiple occasions between September 28th and October 3rd.

Conclusion

Open source and satellite evidence confirms the M10 hospital was damaged on multiple occasions between September 28th and October 3rd, by a range of munitions. Each attack resulted in increasingly significant damage to the building, and ultimately the deaths and injury of multiple individuals. Claims that the attacks were faked are clearly untrue.

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.

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