As It Happens

Airstrike destroys Syrian cave hospital built under 18 metres of solid rock

The facility located in Hama province was considered "the safest place" in all of war-torn Syria — and now it's gone.
The Al Maghara Cave Hospital was partially destroyed by an airstrike Thursday. It has been rendered inoperable. (UOSSM)

Story transcript

Dr. Amjad Rass says the Al Maghara Cave Hospital was the "safest place" in all of Syria — and now it's been destroyed in an airstrike. 

Located in Kafr Zita, Hama province, the hospital was built under 18 metres of solid rock in an underground cave. 

Designed to withstand attacks in the war-torn country, it managed to keep operating through four separate airstrikes in 2018 alone.

"I cannot think of any more protective structure than the cave hospital in Kafr Zita," Rass, chair of the Syrian American Medical Society, told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. 

"Today is not a good day. Today is not a good day."

Thursday's attack penetrated the the roof of the entrance — tearing through an estimated seven metres of rock. (UOSSM )

It's not clear who is responsible for Thursday's attack, which penetrated the roof of the entrance, tearing through an estimated seven metres of rock, causing extensive damage to the emergency department and leaving the hospital inoperable.

It comes three days after two people, including a child, were killed in a suspected Syrian government airstrike on a hospital in Syria's Idlib province.

While some staff members suffered minor injuries in Thursday's airstrike, nobody was killed.

"Those heroes inside — the doctors, the nurses — are our friends, colleagues, classmates, family members," Rass said.

Dr. Amjad Rass says the Al Maghara Cave Hospital was probably the 'safest place' in all of Syria. (UOSSM )

Rass is currently based in Akron, Ohio, but his organization works to support hospitals on the ground in Syria. His own father-in-law is a surgeon at Al Maghara. 

Rass said he spoke with him briefly on Thursday after he'd been safety removed from the site of the airstrike.

"He said, 'I don't fear death,' but it was too scary for him."

The hospital was built beneath 18 metres of rock in order to protect it from attacks like Thursday's airstrike. (UOSSM)

The Al Maghara Cave Hospital serves about 50,000 people and performs roughly 150 major surgeries a month according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM).

"With the sophistication of weapons used, there is no doubt that hospitals are being intentionally targeted and destroyed," Dr. Ghanem Tayara, chair of UOSSM International, said in a press release.

"For this to stop, perpetrators of these crimes must be held accountable for war crimes, which are very clearly spelled out under international law."

The emergency department of the Al Maghara Cave Hospital was severely damaged in Thursday's strike. It's not clear whether it will ever re-open. (UOSSM)

Rass said he doesn't know whether the cave hospital will re-open. It depends on whether there are still enough people in the area who need it, he said. 

"With the escalation of violence starting in early December, we see a lot of people leaving the front lines," he said. "And the front lines are changing."