‘All hospitals’ near north Aleppo’s Azaz suspend operations after doctors kidnapped

AMMAN: Work at “all hospitals” serving an estimated 100,000 people in rebel-held northern Aleppo stopped for a second day on Wednesday, with staff on strike “until further notice” following the arbitrary arrest of two doctors in Azaz by unidentified gunmen on Tuesday.

“The hospital is closed until further notice,” Dr. Muhammad al-Qhaini, director of the Azaz Ahli Hospital and one of the doctors who was kidnapped on Tuesday and later released told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

“A verbal altercation with the companion of a patient escalated, and he brought gunmen claiming to belong to the [rebel] military court,” al-Qhaini told Syria Direct. The men held al-Qhaini and his colleague for one hour early Tuesday morning before letting them go. “They weren’t from any faction, just an armed group that arbitrarily arrested another doctor and myself.”

"Work suspended until further notice,” read signs held by staff of the Azaz Ahli Hospital. Photo courtesy of Azaz Media Office.

“We are demanding that the factions protect what is left of the medical personnel here,” said al-Qhaini. “There must be a mechanism to prevent situations like this.”

Azaz, 6km south of the Syrian border with Turkey, and its surrounding area are home to more than 100,000 people, many of them displaced Syrians who fled north towards the Turkish border in recent months due to Russian and regime bombings and fighting on the ground between the Syrian regime, rebel factions, Syrian Democratic Forces and the Islamic State.

In response to the kidnapping, “all hospitals in the area have closed in solidarity with us,” said al-Qhaini. “This matters to everyone, not just a particular doctor. There must be a fundamental solution.” Medical facilities will continue to receive emergency cases, he said.

Staff at the al-Hurriya field hospital in Marea city, the Bab al-Salama Hospital and the Azaz Ahli Hospital held up signs in front of their workplaces announcing the work suspension and condemning attacks on medical personnel on Tuesday, in pictures posted online the same day.

“No assaults on medical personnel.” Photo courtesy of Azaz Media Office.

“No medical worker is safe from the abuse,” read a Facebook post by Marea’s al-Hurriya field hospital on Tuesday, condemning “actions that force medical personnel to emigrate.”

Monday’s kidnapping in Azaz is not the first time that medical personnel in rebel-held Aleppo province have been attacked.

One month ago, the staff of at least 10 hospitals in rebel-held Aleppo city went on strike for several days in response to the abduction and murder of a hospital employee by a local rebel brigade, Syria Direct reported.

Nisreen A-Nasser

Nisreen was born in Homs and received her diploma in electronics. She is passionate about photography, photoshop and has worked in the field of media to improve her skills. She moved to Jordan after the Syrian revolution began. Nisreen is interested in journalism because she wants to shine a light on forgotten stories from within her country.

Maher al-Hamdan

Maher comes from Outer Damascus. He is currently a political science student at Asia Virtual University in Malaysia. During the conflict, Maher worked with different local coordination offices in Outer Damascus. He moved to Jordan in June 2015. He joined Syria Direct to professionalize his journalism skills.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.