UN shares locations of schools, hospitals in Idlib to save them

GENEVA/BEIRUT/BEIJING: UN officials have notified Russia, Turkey and the United States of the GPS coordinates of 235 schools, hospitals and other civilian sites in the Syrian province of Idlib, in the hope the move will help protect them from being attacked.
“We share these coordinates so there is no doubt that a hospital is a hospital,” Panos Moumtzis, UN regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, told a briefing.
“We would like to see civilians not targeted, hospitals not bombed, people not displaced.”
An estimated 2.9 million people live in Idlib, the last major stronghold of opposition to President Bashar al Assad. Syrian government and Russian warplanes began air strikes last week in a possible prelude to a full-scale offensive.
Four hospitals in Hama and Idlib have been hit by air strikes in the past week, constituting “serious attacks” that violate international law, Moumtzis said. “A hospital is a hospital and has to be respected by all on the ground.”
Moumtzis called on all warring sides to ensure that civilians in Idlib were able to move freely in any direction to flee fighting or bombing, and for aid workers to have access to them.
He quoted a Russian official as telling a humanitarian task force meeting in Geneva on Thursday that “every effort to find a peaceful solution to the problem is being made”.
The United Nations is working 24/7 to ensure delivery of shelter, food and other assistance if, as feared, hundreds of thousands of people flee, he said.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned in Beijing on Thursday that any chemical weapons attack on Syria’s last rebel stronghold would lead to “consequences” for the government in Damascus.
Speaking at a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, Le Drian said the use of chemical weapons in the assault would prompt a response from Paris. “France warns against the use of chemical weapons,” he said, calling it a “red line”.
More than 360,000 people have been killed across war-ravaged Syria in seven years, a monitoring group said on Thursday, in a new toll for the brutal conflict.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had recorded the deaths of 364,792 people, nearly a third of them civilians, since protests erupted in March 2011 against Bashar al Assad.
The toll represents an increase of about 13,000 people in the past six months, according to the Britain-based monitor, which uses a vast network of sources including fighters, officials and medical staff.
The war has killed 110,687 civilians, including more than 20,000 children and nearly 13,000 women.
Violence in northwest Syria has displaced more than 38,500 people in less than two weeks amid increasing hostilities and a looming government assault on the opposition-held Idlib province, the UN said.
The UN, which has warned a full-fledged assault on Idlib could create the century’s “worst humanitarian catastrophe”, has created a plan to help up to 900,000 people who could flee the onslaught.
And an exodus has already begun.
Meanwhile, Jordan and Syria held their first technical talks on opening a major border crossing in southern Syria that was recaptured from the opposition last July, a Jordanian official source said on Thursday.
Damascus, which took back the crossing from the opposition, hopes to reopen the Nassib route vital to its hopes of reviving Syria’s shattered economy and rebuilding in territory under its control.
Amman also hopes the opening of the border crossing will reactivate billions of dollars of annual transit trade between Europe and Gulf markets across Syria. — Agencies