A suspected chlorine gas attack on an underground hospital in the rebel-held north of Syria’s Hama governorate killed three people and injured dozens on March 25, as Assad regime forces attempt to drive back a rebel offensive in the area, local medical personnel told independent news website Syria Direct. A helicopter dropped a large yellow canister through the concrete roof of the Latamna Surgical Hospital, according to hospital personnel. Chlorine gas was then released, according to the account, spreading throughout the the underground facility. Trapped in the poorly ventilated facility, 35 people were injured—14 of them medical personnel—and three were reportedly killed, including a surgeon. “One of the victims smelled as if he just came out of a swimming pool,” said Bilal Abdul Kareem of On the Ground News, reporting from the scene in the aftermath of the attack.
Syrian state news agency SANA reported that warplanes had carried out “a series of raids” on convoys and positions belonging to Jabhat Fatah a-Sham (the former Nusra Front) and other factions in Hama towns. In neighboring rebel-held Idlib governorate, opposition sources reported the Kafr Nubl hospital was also bombed that day.
A report issued earlier this month by the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic covering human rights abuses by all parties from July 2016 to February 2017, found that “Government and pro-Government forces continued to target civilian areas deliberately with improvised chlorine munitions” in both aerial and ground attacks. “The use of chlorine, which causes superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering, is inherently indiscriminate because its effects cannot be limited in time and space,” stated the report, concluding that its use against civilians amounted to war crimes.
UNICEF reports at least 338 attacks against hospitals and medical personnel in Syria in 2016.