Last heart doctor killed in Syria strike

An airstrike in central Syria has killed the last cardiologist in the rebel-held section of Hama province, medics say, dealing a devastating blow to the health care system in opposition-controlled parts of the country.

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In Geneva, United Nations-supported peace talks are set to focus on humanitarian concerns, as Western diplomats warned that a ceasefire in place since February was on the brink of collapse, with the government stepping up military activity.

The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said the cessation of hostilities is “very tenuous”.

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The UN reported fresh fighting in Yarmouk – a refugee camp for Palestinian outside Damascus – between “extremist armed groups”, cutting thousands of people off from food and clean water supplies.

Islamic State is reportedly involved in the fight.

Hassan al-Araj, a cardiologist in his mid-40s, was killed on Wednesday in an airstrike in Hama province, his colleague Abu el Ezz, a doctor with the Syrian American Medical Society told DPA.

Thousands of medical staff are estimated to have fled Syria since the civil war began five years ago, while hundreds have been killed, many by the Syrian government.

“We believe Doctor al-Araj was the target of the strike and it was an assassination of a doctor that has sacrificed his life to help the Syrian people in his region,” Abu el Ezz said on Thursday, blaming Russian forces.

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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the hospital where al-Araj worked is based inside a cave on a mountain. The hospital was forced to move last year after its building was hit by an airstrike.

The hospital provides services to tens of thousands of people, SAMS said in a statement.

The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said 94 airstrikes and shelling attacks targeted facilities backed by the organisation in Syria in 2015.

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