RAQQA: Syrian students walking to school are seen through a shattered glass in the northern city of Raqqa. – AFP

DAMASCUS: Hospitals in the Syrian capital Damascus and the coastal province of Latakia have reached capacity due to rising coronavirus admissions, a health official said yesterday. “We have started transferring COVID-19 patients from the province of Damascus to the (central) province of Homs, and from Latakia to the province of Tartus,” Tawfiq Hasaba, a health ministry official, was quoted as saying by Syrian state TV.

The move came after “hospitals in these areas reached capacity because of a large spike in coronavirus cases,” he added. Syria on Saturday logged 442 new coronavirus infections in government-held areas-a new daily record for a conflict-hit country that has documented more than 32,580 cases, including 2,198 deaths in regime controlled territory, since the start of its outbreak last year. “It is the first time the number of cases reaches 400” in one day, Hasaba said, adding that the number of new infections was highest in Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia.

Coronavirus cases have been on the rise across Syria since mid-August, including in the northwest and northeast, large parts of which fall beyond government control. According to the World Health Organization, only two percent of Syria’s population has been at least partially vaccinated. Syria’s conflict has since 2011 killed nearly half a million people and ravaged a healthcare sector struggling to cope with a mass outflux of professionals. Around 70 percent of the country’s pre-war medical staff have left since the start of the war.

Russia raids kill 11
In another development, at least 11 fighters from a pro-Turkish rebel group were killed yesterday in Russian air raids in northern Syria, a war monitor said yesterday. The strikes hit a school used as a “military base” by the Al-Hamza Division outside the north Syria town of Afrin which has been under the control of Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies since 2018, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “Eleven fighters were killed and another 13 were wounded in the Russian strikes,” said the monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

It said the death toll could climb further amid ongoing efforts to pull victims from the rubble. Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman said such Russian raids are rare in this region of Syria, which has been controlled by Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies for three years. A Russian raid outside Afrin last month targeted a position of Faylaq al-Sham, another Turkey-backed rebel group, he said. A spokesperson for the National Army, a coalition of Turkey-backed rebel groups, called yesterday’s attack a “clear message from Russia” to Turkey, showing that there are no “red lines”.

Turkey supports Syrian rebel forces battling President Bashar Al-Assad’s government and it has also launched multiple operations across Syria’s northern border against Kurdish forces and against the Islamic State group. Russia, on the other hand, is a staunch supporter of the Syrian regime and has intervened militarily in support of Assad since 2015. Although they back opposite sides, Ankara and Moscow have worked together to broker several ceasefire deals in Syria’s northwest, including a 2020 truce agreement in the Idlib region, the country’s last major opposition bastion. – AFP