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In the news: Afghanistan hospital attack a ‘war crime’, rights groups say

Newborns ‘targeted in a war they and their mothers had no part in’.

A policeman keeps watch outside Kabul's Dasht-e-Barchi hospital, which came under attack on 12 May. (Omar Sobhani/REUTERS)

An attack on a hospital maternity ward in Kabul that killed at least 14 civilians, including two newborn babies, is likely a war crime, rights groups say.

Gunmen stormed the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital in Afghanistan’s capital on 12 May. Witnesses told reporters the assailants shot people at random, including mothers, nurses, and children. The aid group Médecins Sans Frontières runs a 30-bed maternity unit at the hospital.

“An attack on a maternity clinic is simply unspeakable,” said Patricia Gossman, Human Rights Watch’s associate Asia director. 

Shaharzad Akbar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said newborns were essentially “targeted in a war they and their mothers had no part in”.

Taliban militants have denied involvement in the hospital attack. However, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday he would order the country’s military to resume an “offensive” stance following the assault.

The Kabul neighbourhood home to the hospital is a mostly Shia area that has seen previous attacks linked to the Afghan offshoot of the so-called Islamic State, whose fighters have battled both the Taliban and the government. 

The hospital assault was among at least four separate attacks across the country that killed dozens in total this week, including a bomb blast at a funeral in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

The violence adds yet another hurdle to Afghanistan’s stalled peace process. Planned talks between the militant Taliban and the government have stumbled over the disputed issue of prisoner releases.

The UN says attacks on healthcare centres and health workers have sharply risen in recent years, including 75 “incidents” last year. Conflict often forces the closure of health clinics, cutting off access to under-served rural areas. In 2019, roughly 24,000 hours of healthcare delivery were lost due to “forced closure and destruction”, the UN said.

– Irwin Loy

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