Medics flee as rebels attack and shut down North Darfur’s main hospital

Sudanese paramilitary forces stormed the main hospital in North Darfur, opening fire and looting vital medical supplies, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have reported.

Fighters from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) plundered the facility on Saturday stealing an ambulance among other supplies, the aid agency said.

“On Saturday, MSF and the Ministry of Health suspended all activities in South Hospital, El Fasher, North Darfur, after RSF soldiers stormed the facility, opened fire, and looted it, including stealing an MSF ambulance,” MSF Sudan said on social media Saturday.

Armed men pose at the front gate of South Hospital in al-Fashir. - Obtained by CNN
Armed men pose at the front gate of South Hospital in al-Fashir. - Obtained by CNN

The hospital was the only one in the region “equipped to deal with mass casualties” and “was the main referral hospital for treating war-wounded.”

It was also one of the two hospitals in El Fasher with surgical capacity, according to MSF. As a result, patients are being moved to Paediatric and Saudi hospitals “which were unprepared for such an influx,” it added.

Video posted on an apparent RSF “X” account shows armed men at the front gate of South Hospital. The footage was geolocated by CNN and shows at least one man firing an AK-style weapon on hospital grounds.

According to MSF’s statement posted on Twitter, only ten patients and a small medical team were at the hospital when it was attacked. Medical teams had already begun transferring patients and services to other facilities earlier in the week after intensified fighting in the region, the MSF said.

Images posted to social media and verified by CNN show damaged medical equipment strewn in and around the facility. In one video, an armed man poses inside what appears to be an ambulance parked outside South Hospital. It is unclear whether the vehicle belonged to MSF.

CNN has reached out to the RSF for comment.

A trail of blood through the halls of South Hospital. - Obtained by CNN
A trail of blood through the halls of South Hospital. - Obtained by CNN

MSF said most patients and the remaining medical team, which included all MSF staff, were able to flee the violence but they are unable to say for certain if there were any casualties due to the chaos that ensued.

South Hospital is the latest medical facility to fall into warring factions’ crosshairs in Darfur.

The medical facility had already been hit by mortar shells and bullets multiple times in the preceding weeks between May 25th and June 3rd resulting in two deaths and 14 injuries among patients and caretakers, according to MSF.

On May 11, nearby Babiker Nahar Paediatric Hospital was impacted by an SAF airstrike 50 meters from the facility, per an MSF press release. Two children and a care giver in the intensive care unit were killed in the strike after a roof collapsed.

“It is outrageous that the RSF opened fire inside the hospital. This is not an isolated incident, as staff and patients have endured attacks on the facility for weeks from all sides, but opening fire inside a hospital crosses a line,” said MSF’s Head of Emergencies Michel Lacharite, as quoted by MSF Sudan on X Saturday.

“Warring parties must halt attacks on medical care. Hospitals are closing. Remaining facilities can’t handle mass casualties. We are trying to find solutions. The responsibility is on warring parties to spare medical facilities,” Lacharite added.

Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy of the EU Nabila Massrali said on X Sunday, “The EU is appalled by RSF-Janjaweed assault of staff at the El Fasher South Hospital in Darfur also looting it, as it did with many other hospitals in Sudan.”

“We remind again the [RSF] to show restraint and respect International Humanitarian Law,” she added.

The United Nations (UN) has said that El Fasher hosts around 1.8 million people who are at “imminent risk of famine.”

The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said an escalation in fighting from April 1st this year between the warring RSF and Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) was monitored across El Fasher, displacing almost 130,000 people in just April and May this year.

Civil war in Sudan between the SAF and RSF broke out in April 2023. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, since the war’s outbreak more than 8.8 million people have fled their homes and 24.8 million people are in need of assistance.

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