Health care Kingdom MENA Syria UN

Syria health care ‘stretched to limit’

Syria’s UN ambassador and head of the government delegation Bashar Al-Jaafari (2nd left), Syrian Ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad (left) and other delegates arrive to attend the third round of Syria peace talks at the Rixos President Hotel in Astana, Wednesday. — AFP
Syria’s UN ambassador and head of the government delegation Bashar Al-Jaafari (2nd left), Syrian Ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad (left) and other delegates arrive to attend the third round of Syria peace talks at the Rixos President Hotel in Astana, Wednesday. — AFP

BEIRUT — The UN health agency says over half of all hospitals and public health centers in Syria have closed or are partially functioning after six years of war, and nearly two-thirds of health-care workers have fled.

The head of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, Peter Salama, says resources to help the health care system are “stretched to the limit,” citing security threats to health care workers and a lack of access to medicines and medical equipment.

Syrians on Wednesday marked the sixth anniversary of Syria’s civil war that has left hundreds of thousands dead.

Salama called for “systematic and unhindered access” for life-saving materials like vaccines and medical supplies “on this sad anniversary of the start of war in Syria and before more lives are lost.”

Meanwhile, Syrian state-owned television says at least 25 people have been killed after a suicide bomber detonated his explosives’ vest inside the main judicial building in the capital Damascus.

The TV says many other people were wounded in Wednesday’s attack, the latest in a spate of bombings and suicide attacks targeting government-controlled areas of Syria.

The bombing took place inside the Justice Palace, located near the famous and crowded Hamidiyeh market in Damascus.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The blast follows twin attacks on Saturday that killed at least 40 people in Damascus. That attack was claimed by the Syria’s Al-Qaeda branch, formerly known as the Nusra Front.

In the Kazakh capital of Astana, Syria’s UN ambassador said he was concluding his participation in the latest round of talks with Russia and Iran after two days of meetings without rebels.

Bashar Al-Jaafari says discussions were “constructive” but only one official paper was produced, about demining Palmyra, the historic Syrian town that pro-government forces recaptured from Daesh (the so-called IS) group two weeks ago.

Syrian rebels did not send any delegates to this third round of talks, accusing the government and Russia — one of Damascus’ main backers — of breaking ceasefire pledges and obligations to distribute humanitarian aid.

The Astana talks, brokered by Russia and Turkey, are centered on reaching a ceasefire in Syria and getting humanitarian relief to millions of suffering civilians. They run parallel to the UN-mediated political talks in Geneva aimed at ending Syria’s civil war.

Syrian rebels had previously boycotted this third summit in Astana, citing the government’s continued bombardment of opposition-held areas in Homs and Damascus.

A government delegation led by Al-Jaafari, began meetings Tuesday with Russian officials in Astana.

Talks in Astana are running parallel to political talks in Geneva between the government and the opposition. — AP