Key doctor killed in rebel area as Syrian truce on brink of collapse

An airstrike has killed the last cardiologist in the rebel-held part of Syria's Hama province, medics confirmed Thursday, highlighting the lack of progress in improving health conditions and the fragility of the current ceasefire.

Cardiologist Hassan al-Araj died Wednesday in an airstrike, his colleague Abu el Ezz told dpa.

In Geneva, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura noted the killing "with great sadness."

De Mistura reported that the Syrian government has promised him to finally allow passage to medical aid shipments, but is still refusing to let through much needed surgical supplies.

"I hope what I got as a promise will actually materialize," he said about his partial negotiation success.

De Mistura was speaking on the sidelines of peace talks that he is brokering, as Western diplomats warned that a ceasefire in place since February was on the brink of collapse, with the government stepping up military activity.

The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said the cessation of hostilities is "very tenuous."

The UN reported fresh fighting in Yarmouk - a refugee camp for Palestinians outside Damascus - between "extremist armed groups," cutting thousands of people off from food and clean water supplies. Islamic State is reportedly involved in the fight.

De Mistura said global and regional powers are disappointed and frustrated about stalled efforts to get aid to Syrians in besieged cities that have not yet been reached since the truce started in late February.

The government has been refusing to grant access to several cities that its army besieges, including Daraya.

"We need improvement," de Mistura said.

Over the past days, UN planes have successfully airdropped food into Deir ez-Zor, which is surrounded by Islamic State extremists.

De Mistura said the idea of parachuting aid into Daraya had been raised at a meeting of regional and global powers in Geneva on Thursday, but he warned that such operations were difficult because of security issues and because they affected Syria's sovereignty.

Thousands of medical staff are estimated to have fled Syria since the civil war began five years ago, while hundreds have been killed, many by the Syrian government.

"We believe Doctor al-Araj was the target of the strike and it was an assassination of a doctor that has sacrificed his life to help the Syrian people in his region," Abu el Ezz said, blaming Russian forces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the hospital where al-Araj worked is based in a mountain cave. The hospital was forced to move last year after its building was hit by an airstrike.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said 94 airstrikes and shelling attacks targeted facilities backed by the organization in Syria in 2015.

Last update: Thu, 14/04/2016 - 18:54

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