Attack on an MSF-supported hospital in al-Hamidiah, Idlib, Syria
15 February 2016
On the morning of 15 February 2016, an MSF-supported hospital in al-Hamidiah, a small village located south of Ma’arat al-Numan, Idlib Province, was hit by in two separate attacks. Each attack consisted of a number of strikes within a few minutes of one another.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the hospital, MSF publicly claimed that the strike on the hospital was ‘very likely’ carried out by Russian or Syrian forces. Their claim was met with denial from both Russian and Syrian governments, with the Syrian UN envoy talking about the “so called MSF hospital operating without permission” and Russia denying any responsibility. The controversy caused by MSF’s claims and the denial of the perpetrators highlighted the urgency to conduct a private investigations into these events. It is in this context that FA was commissioned by MSF to determine the perpetrators of the attack, which killed 25 people.
This work is part of a new collaboration between MSF and Forensic Architecture that aims to develop the independent capacity to investigate and report on hospital strikes worldwide.
Although multiple videos and photos claimed to capture the attack, FA was faced with a bipartite challenge. On one hand, both Russian and Syrian regime planes were carrying out air raids in the area of Ma’arat al-Numan on multiple medical facilities throughout the day; on the other hand, the media attention given to the attack on the MSF-supported hospital meant most footage uploaded via news agencies and social media fell under the blanket term of ‘attack on MSF hospital’, even though the footage in question had not captured the attack on the MSF-supported facility.
In order to determine which material captured which attack, FA cross-referenced testimony provided by MSF from people on the ground who witnessed the attack first hand, as well as publicly available testimony from the Free Syrian Army Observatory against spatial and temporal details found in the videos. These methods included image triangulation to locate the scene, shadow analysis to corroborate the time of recording, and observing clues as to the characteristics of the fighter planes involved. In doing so, it was possible to produce a clear timeline and map of the different attacks that occurred that day. The balance of probability resulting from this analysis tilted towards the attack on the MSF-supported hospital being carried out by the Russian air force, while the attack on the other hospital later that day was more likely to have been carried out by the Syrian regime.
Furthermore, the report illustrates a coordinated strategy involving the systematic targeting of medical facilities, leaving Ma’arat al-Numan and its surroundings critically deprived of much needed medical infrastructure.
Forensic Architecture team
- Eyal Weizman
- Christina Varvia
MSF inquiry indicates Russia was behind hospital bombing in Syria | The Guardian, 17 Feb 2017
MSF investigation holds Russia, Syria responsible for hospital bombing | Middle East Monitor, 16 Feb 2017