Head of delegation of International Committee of Red Cross in Russia, Belarus and Moldova Magne Barth: We condemn attack on Russian hospital in Aleppo
Head of the delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Russia, Belarus and Moldova Magne Barth has explained the position of the ICRC on interaction with Russian military in Syria. Earlier the Russian Defense Ministry called the ICRC reaction regarding the death of two Russian medical workers in a strike on a Russian military hospital in Syria’s Aleppo cynical.Question: Mr. Barth, the Russian Defense Ministry has sharply criticized the ICRC commentary regarding the strike on the Russian mobile hospital in Aleppo and the death of Russian medical workers. How do you treat this?
Answer: Let me first say that the attack on the hospital in Aleppo is completely tragic and completely unacceptable. The loss of life of two Russian nurses  is tragic and I extend my heartfelt condolences to families of those who lost their lives in Aleppo. Doctors, nurses and other medical workers do everything they can to save lives day-in and day-out and they must imperatively be respected and protected.
It is absolutely clear that every precaution must be taken in the conflict to ensure that hospitals and medical structures do not come under fire and this applies universally: it does not matter who runs a hospital, where a hospital is, wars must have limits. So, this is very clear, and this is very clearly our position with regard to this attack.
I can tell you that yesterday, when the attack happened, my colleague, the head of the ICRC delegation in Damascus, was in Aleppo – and is in Aleppo now. And she was on the spot right after the attack and she saw the damage to the hospital and she interacted and talked to Russian military officials there and of course expressed her condolences for what had happened. So we are very close to these realities, we saw the tragedy and my colleagues expressed a deep concern for what had happened.
One of the sad consequences of this is of course that when a hospital is damaged, healthcare or access to healthcare for civilians and people who need it is denied, capacity to deal with people who are sick or wounded goes down. So this has big effects on a local situation when a hospital is hit.
Q.: The Russian Defense Ministry was indignant when the ICRC did not condemn the strike on the Russian medical facility. Why did not the ICRC do that and is not doing it now?
A.: As I told you we express strong disapproval, this is tragic and unacceptable. As the ICRC we condemn generally all attacks on healthcare facilities and hospitals wherever they happen.
Very sadly I have to remind you that this is not the first time that hospitals are attacked in Syria. There have been a number of attacks on healthcare facilities and hospitals on different sides of the conflicts and undertaken by different actors, as it happens in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Yemen.
Of course, our position is clear - this is against the law, this is totally unacceptable, this is tragic in this case as it is and has been of the last few months and years in Syria and other places. No differences here.
The international humanitarian law requires that parties distinguish at all times between civilians and civilian objects and military and military objectives. This is essential to allow the wounded and sick in an armed conflict to have access to healthcare and for medical staff to be able to work. As I said this is global concern and unfortunately the tragic event yesterday is not the first of its kind in Syria, there have been many, many of them, unfortunately.
Q.: So can one say that the ICRC condemns the attack on the Russian hospital just as attacks on any other medical facilities in Syria and elsewhere?
A.: I just said that the ICRC condemns all attack on medical facilities and hospitals, including this one.
Q.: But you do not condemn action of the opposition specifically?
A.: We were not on the spot. We came there afterwards. What I said is what our general position on this is. Beyond that the ICRC always in conflicts try to get into confidential dialog with different sides of conflicts, so that we can raise our concerns confidentially and directly with those who are responsible for different violations of law. This goes for Syria, this goes for Iraq, goes for Yemen.
We always seek to talk to ones who are fighting and make our direct concerns. There are two levels. We express what I told you now in the public domain and then we have dialog with authorities and others if we want to go deeper into the thesis.
It goes to all violations of the international humanitarian law. We want to address them bilaterally and confidentially with all sides of the conflicts. It is the part of the way we work, when not everything will be spelled out in public.
Q.: Does the ICRC interact with Russian military in prodding assistance with Aleppo residents?
A.: We have close contact with Russian military here, with Russian military in Damascus, and with the Syrian army obviously. All these aims to share information about security and access for our work, and the dialog is fundamentally about how we can reach the people who need assistance. This dialog is going on the ground and has been on of course for a long time. Similarly, with Syrians it is a practical dialog on where it is safe to move, how we can move and that the ICRC is not confused with any of the conflicting parties.
This dialog is very much appreciated and very important. And again, it follows the normal approach of the ICRC. We need to talk to different military representatives  on the ground, so that we can move as safely as possible and be as efficient as possible. So of course, contact with the Russian authorities here, in Damascus, in Aleppo is highly appreciated on the ICRC side, and we certainly want to continue.
Q.: Is the ICRC providing assistance to Aleppo residents now?
A.: The ICRC has had an office in Aleppo since the summer of 2013, when I myself was based in Damascus as head of the delegation. We are working closely with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and we are providing big assistance to people displaced, wounded and sick wherever it is possible in Aleppo. Not everywhere in Aleppo we have access, not everywhere it is possible to work, but we are working on water, on heath, we are doing the distribution of food and other necessities to thousands of people. There is nothing new. It has been on for more than three years.
Q.: Including in eastern Aleppo?
A.: Of course unfortunately there are areas of Aleppo which are inaccessible, Eastern Aleppo for example. We have not been able to bring in aid for many-many months. There are civilians in parts of that area whom we are not able to help. People, however, now are moving out of the conflict area, the displaced have been coming in thousands and ten thousand in the past few weeks. We are assisting them. We are not the only ones, but together with the SARC we are doing what we can at the massive scale.
Q.: Do you mean thousands of people displaced fr om eastern Aleppo?
A.: What‘s happening today is that the frontlines are moving and there are many people moving out of Eastern Aleppo into government-held areas. We are deeply involved in the assistance to these people.
But there have also been displacement from Western Aleppo. Displacement is enormous in the whole Syria. It‘s not the question of Aleppo only, there are many other places wh ere the conflict is very heavy on the population and we are working there as well with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.