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Syria: UN says dozens dead in multiple air strikes on hospitals, schools -

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ELEANOR HALL: But first to Syria, and the deadly air strikes on civilians in schools and hospitals which the UN is calling a "blatant violation of international law".

The bombings in the country's north have hit at least five medical facilities and two schools, killing more than 50 people.

Medecins Sans Frontieres says it is in no doubt its hospital was deliberately targeted by the Russians or the Syrian government.

The attacks come just days before a proposed halt in the fighting which was to have been a step towards a permanent ceasefire.

Barney Porter has the latest.

BARNEY PORTER: The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres initially said a hospital that it supported in Idlib was hit in an air strike, killing several people.

US officials then said two hospitals in the Aleppo area were also targeted, including the women's and children's hospital in Azaz city.

The UN now believes the range of civilian targets across the region was far broader, and the death toll much higher.

The head of the MSF mission in Jordan, Marc Schakal, says the facility in Idlib was hit four times in two consecutive attacks.

MARC SCHAKAL: We did not see the planes, or who to blame, the fact is that today hospital was targeted in Syria and it's becoming the modus operandi, is becoming a routine, and putting in danger the health system.

BARNEY PORTER: The latest strikes have come as the world powers renew their push for a ceasefire in the Syrian conflict, which they agreed to last week.

The United Nations envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has made a surprise visit to the capital Damascus for talks with Syria's foreign minister.

Mr de Mistura suspended the recent peace talks in Geneva after only three days, and now hopes to bring the parties back to the negotiating table by February the 25th.

But to illustrate the difficulties in his goal, the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, has said any ceasefire does not mean each side has to stop using weapons.

BASHAR AL-ASSAD (translation): When does the West speak about ceasefire? I think the answer is clear. It's when the militants are hurt, when they show signs of being defeated.

Firstly, the term 'ceasefire' is something that occurs between armies and states, it does not occur between a state and terrorists.

So the term is incorrect. We can maybe say "cessation of operations", "cessation of fighting", but we don't want to get into the terminology right now.

BARNEY PORTER: In Brussels, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has called on all parties to "stick to the commitment" they made to seek a temporary ceasefire.

FEDERICA MOGHERINI: We will probably continue to face some setbacks. This is not a reason to change policy just after four days that we took common decisions and there was a complete unity in the council on this - on the need to stick to the commitments made in Munich.

BARNEY PORTER: She's also condemned the strikes on the medical facilities.

FEDERICA MOGHERINI: It is fundamental to protect civilians on the ground, in particular to guarantee security and protection for medical facilities, the work of the NGOs on the ground and humanitarian delivery.

In this respect what happened today to the hospital of Medecins Sans Frontieres is completely unacceptable.

BARNEY PORTER: France's Foreign Minister has gone further. He's described the attacks as war crimes.

ELEANOR HALL: Barney Porter.