UN asks Russia for answers about bombed Syria hospitals

Syrian rescuers at the scene of an air strike that hit an ambulance in the town of Maaret al-Numan in northwest Syria on June 20 (AFP Photo/Abdulaziz KETAZ)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The UN aid chief said Tuesday he had asked Russia to explain how it uses data on the location of Syrian hospitals and clinics following a string of attacks on health facilities.

Mark Lowcock, the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the Security Council he was "not sure" hospitals that share coordinates of their location under a UN deconfliction system will be protected.

More than 23 hospitals have been hit by strikes since Russia-backed Syrian forces launched an offensive in the jihadist-controlled Idlib region in late April, according to the UN.

On June 20, an ambulance transporting an injured woman in southern Idlib was hit, killing the woman and three medical workers.

"I have written to the Russian Federation to request information as to how the details provided through the deconfliction mechanism are used," Lowcock told the council.

Russia, which backs Syrian forces in their offensive in the northwest, has firmly denied that the bombing campaign has targeted hospitals in the jihadist-controlled Idlib region.

Moscow maintains that the military operation is aimed at driving out "terrorists" from the region, which is covered by a de-escalation agreement reached last year between Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate which is on the UN terror list, controls most of Idlib province as well as parts of neighboring Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

The war in Syria, now in its ninth year, has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.