Syrian American doctors travel to Aleppo to save lives as Assad targets hospitals

Syrian American doctors travel to Aleppo to save lives as Assad targets hospitals
When Samer Attar was growing up in Chicago, his parents took him on frequent visits to Syria, the country where they had been born.

Yet nothing prepared him for what he has seen during the medical visits he has made in the last five years, as Syria has become engulfed in a brutal conflict. The orthopedic surgeon gave testimony to the UN on what had been seen on a recent trip to Aleppo, where his work as a volunteer medic made him and his colleagues a target of the Assad regime.

“Things have become so bad. It is a living hell,” he told The Independent, speaking from Chicago. “Whenever I go there, it is the two worst weeks of my life. It’s also the best two weeks of my life, because of the people you meet there.”

Mr Attar, 40, said he was working in a hospital in part of the city controlled by rebels forces opposed to the Assad regime. Civilians in such areas have suffered horrendous injuries as the result of barrel bombs and other ordinance that have been dropped by regime “forces.”

A report published last week by Human Rights Watch said that the Assad regime, along with the Russian military, has been using incendiary devices which burn their victims and start fires in those areas in violation of international law.

“The Syrian government and Russia should immediately stop attacking civilian areas with incendiary weapons,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “These weapons inflict horrible injuries and excruciating pain, so all countries should condemn their use in civilian areas.”

Mr Samer said that hospitals, clinics and even ambulances have also become favorite targets for the Assad regime. “There is a saying in Syria that if you can kill one doctor, you kill 100 soldiers because there is no-one to care for them,” he said. “It’s a scorched earth policy.”

Mr Samer and other members of the Syrian American Medical Society have been sending volunteers to Aleppo, and to refugee camps in countries such as Jordan and Greece to provide emergency medical care. They have also been backing their Syrian colleagues inside cities such as Aleppo by means of tele-medicine - helping diagnose patients and suggest treatment by means of skype and FaceTime.

He travelled to Syria in the company of another US-based doctor, Zaher Sahloul, who also testified recently to the UN about what they had seen. They called on the international community to do more to help end the suffering of a war that has seen half the country’s pre-war population of more than 11m people killed or else forced to flee.

“Medical personnel have been asking for two things since the beginning of the crisis. Protection and access. They have neither,” said Dr Sahloul. “Everyone in Syria is looking for the end of the crisis. We cannot do it alone. We need the UN Security Council to facilitate an end to the crisis.”

Among the doctors in Syria who have refused to leave is Rami Kalazi.

He recently told PBS that “all the hospitals in Aleppo City have been bombed, all of them. There’s no exceptions.”

He added: “The first thing you will think of is looking for your colleagues. Are they still alive or dead? Will I see, for example, an arm of my colleague or a leg, or will I see a body, or half of a body, or will I see him alive? You don’t know.”

He said that patients were warned that it was risky to stay too long in the hospital and that they should find an alliterative place to stay, as quickly as they can.

An interviewer asked him, what happened to the critical patients who could not leave.

“They stay in the hospital,” he said. “And some of them died during these attacks.”

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