The denial of access to emergency healthcare combined with the callous treatment of wounded soldiers, rebels and civilians is considered by many in the international community to be one of the most disturbing aspects of the Syrian civil war since such activity is viewed as a weapon utilized by both sides, according to a United Nations international commission of inquiry report released on Friday.
According information and testimony that was collected by UN investigators in Syria, the Assad regime and its affiliates such as the Hezbollah fighters, have routinely interfered with medical care to further their military goals. Evidence collected by the investigators has led UN officials to conclude that government forces have denied medical treatment to Syrians living in areas that are controlled by rebel forces.
According to the UN report, such denials have become de facto policy for those loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and his Ba'ath Party government and those aligned with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other rebel groups.
According to the UN officials, the attacks on medical units, the endangerment of hospitals, the targeting of physicians and other medical personnel, and the interference with patients receiving treatment is becoming commonplace.
Victims provided UN investigators with horrific accounts of wounded and sick human beings allowed to endure intense pain as they slowly die at military checkpoints unable to reach medical facilities. Even if they are able to reach a hospital or clinic the are still subjected to merciless attacks in the hospital and doctors who provide impartial aid are arrested or targeted.
In addition, the UN commission of inquiry claims there is evidence that anti-Government rebels have attacked hospitals in certain areas. However, the UN report falls short of identifying which of the rebel groups are most likely to target the wounded or the sick patients.
Some witnesses, such as Gen. Paul Vallely (US Army-Ret.), have visited war-torn Syria and have noted that al-Qaeda-linked groups are likely to brutalize civilians including those requiring medical treatment.
Since the beginning of Syria’s unrest, Assad's security forces have invaded hospital buildings and mobile medical units in order to deny patients medical care because they are believed to be affiliated with the opposition, according to the UN.
In one example noted in the report: "[Assad's] Special Forces raided and closed down a hospital in Damascus because it treated injured protesters. The [police were called in] to arrest patients, doctors and nurses."
In its attempt to be even-handed in its report, UN officials noted that anti-government armed groups have also attacked patients and medical staff at certain healthcare facilities.
As an example, the report noted: "Al Farouk Brigade fighters attacked the National Hospital in Jurat Al Shayyah, as part of a military offensive on Homs city. After several days’ resistance from government forces, the Al Farouk Brigade took control of the hospital. The Brigade took no precautions to avoid civilian casualties or to protect the sick and wounded during the attack. Government forces responded with aerial bombardment, which largely destroyed the hospital."
In another recent incident, in late May 2013, "anti-government armed groups attacked the National Hospital in Dara’a, causing considerable damage. A member of the FSA brigade that carried out the attack on the hospital said that his group believed that there were approximately 50 patients in the hospital, and that all were affiliated with the government. When orders were given to attack the hospital, none of the fighters involved protested that it was a protected object and no warnings were given prior to the attack."