How the "New York Times" proves that Russian aviation has targeted hospitals in Syria

The US newspaper has published a vast investigation proving for the first time the Kremlin's involvement in the attacks on May 5 against four Syrian health facilities.

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A Sukhoi-24 lands on a base near Latakia, Syria, in November 2015. HANDOUT / REUTERS

35 36 00.69 36 36 28.06. This sequence of numbers is not random: they are coordinates. They designate the Syrian Nabad Al-Hayat Hospital, located in the city of Haas, in the heart of the Idlib region. Eight minutes after a Russian voice said these figures on the radio frequency used by the Moscow Air Force, that of a Sukhoi-34 pilot answered at 1440 hours on 5 May. "Srabotal" – "it's done". The hospital, built underground to avoid this kind of attack, is immediately hit by three bombs, the explosion of which is filmed by a witness who stands a few kilometers from the establishment, emptied three days earlier at the result of rumors of impending strikes.

This attack on a health facility, although considered a war crime under international law, is not uncommon in Syria, made bloodless by eight years of a deadly war. Fifty-four hospitals and clinics were attacked in rebel areas between late April and mid-September, according to the World Health Organization. At least seven of them had provided their contact information to the UN, to be listed as a humanitarian exclusion zone.

Although Russian aviation is frequently suspected of being the source of these precision strikes involving military know-how and equipment superior to that of the Syrian army, no one has so far managed to prove the Kremlin's involvement in these crimes. Russia and Syria have always denied targeting civilian facilities, ensuring that they want to attack only groups 'Terrorists'. But, Saturday, October 12, the New York Times has published an extensive investigation, accompanied by a video, proving for the first time that Russian aviation committed, on the only day of May 5, four attacks against Syrian hospitals.

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Four elements intersected

How did American journalists manage to prove this responsibility of the Kremlin? In his article, the American newspaper explains having intersected four different elements to highlight the responsibility of the bombings of this Syrian hospital:

  • a record of air traffic observed in the Syrian skies. Conducted by observers in the field, often commissioned by NGOs, it records and describes all the flights of military aircraft observed in the Syrian skies for several months (model of the aircraft, date, time and location of the aircraft). observation);
  • audio recordings, which broadcast radio communications from Russian aviation. You can hear the conversations between pilots of Russian fighter planes and the air operators who give them the flight instructions. In his making of of the investigation, the team states that this is "Tens of thousands of hours of unpublished recording", without citing their source in order to protect its security;
  • an analysis of the types of weapons used with the assistance of specialists from the Russian military arsenal;
  • clues to establish a temporal pattern of the attack, namely the testimony of medical teams, reports on social networks or reports of accidents written by hospital officials.
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Decrypted code

For weeks, journalists have tried to establish links between each of these elements, including translating and decrypting the keywords used by pilots and air operators in their exchanges. Before each attack, the conversation was based on the same pattern:

  1. the operator gives figures corresponding to geographical coordinates;
  2. the pilot confirms receipt of the coordinates by saying "package received";
  3. the pilot confirms that the target is well targeted with the words "correction received";
  4. the pilot calculates the minute he will strike;
  5. the switchman gives the green light;
  6. the pilot confirms the launch ("srabotal", "it's done" in Russian).

The scenario decrypted by the American journalists is reproduced scrupulously in each of the four attacks carried out on May 5th.

For example, Kafr Nabl Hospital, also in Idlib province, is hit four times in eighteen minutes that day. The flight record confirms that Russian planes were observed in the Syrian skies that day and in this region. The audio conversation is similar: at 5.30 pm, 5.35 pm, 5.40 pm and 5.48 pm, the Russian pilot utters the word "Srabotal". The attack will be dead and many injured. The atmosphere in the hospital, also underground, is made unresponsible by the dust, testify directly the doctors present on the spot.

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The scenario is also the same in the bombing of Kafr Zita hospital and that of Al-Amal, a few hours later. The demonstration, relentless, leaves no doubt about the origin of these attacks. And the inquiry is only about "One day in the Russian military campaign that has lasted four years in Syria", recalls the American daily.

"We note with regret that such a serious publication is a victim of the manipulation of terrorists and British secret services"responded General Igor Konachenkov, spokesman for the Russian defense ministry, in a statement. "The alleged evidence provided by the NYT not even worth the paper they are printed on "he said. In August, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the opening of an internal investigation into hospital bombings.


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