As battle for Deir e-Zor city rages, Islamic State destroys last civilian hospital in regime-controlled territory

When Islamic State (IS) fighters wrecked the regime’s only civilian hospital in the eastern desert city of Deir e-Zor in mid-January, they left an estimated 100,000 residents without advanced medical care.

On January 15, IS forces seized Assad Hospital for several hours and “destroyed everything inside” before withdrawing, Raed al-Farati, a journalist inside regime-controlled Deir e-Zor, told Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani.

This move was part of IS’s latest campaign to seize the last regime-controlled districts in Deir e-Zor city, which IS has encircled since 2015, Syria Direct reported on January 19.

By taking these districts, IS would consolidate its control of the oil-rich province. 

Q: Is there another hospital where civilians in regime-held neighborhoods can seek medical treatment?

IS fighters withdrew hours after seizing the hospital, but not before destroying everything inside.

There is another hospital in the city—a fully equipped military hospital with a complete medical staff. But it’s reserved for regime soldiers and military officials; civilians can’t be treated there. Because of the recent fighting with IS, the military hospital is very crowded and the staff is busy [caring for injured regime fighters].

Q: Why do you think IS forces withdrew from Assad Hospital?

Because it sits on a front line. IS wouldn’t benefit from stationing fighters there since the building would be a clear target. So its forces opted for destroying the hospital equipment instead.

Before they withdrew, IS fighters were using the back road to access the hospital since the main road leading to the facility is in the line of fire.

In my opinion, IS is waging these battles in order to sever ties between regime districts, thus isolating them from each other. Its main aim is to take the military airport. They’re shelling neighborhoods to put pressure on regime forces. By opening several fronts, they’re trying to scatter regime forces.

Q: How has the destruction of the only civilian hospital in the area affected residents?

Even though it had some equipment, the hospital was by no means complete. With five doctors, the hospital didn’t have the resources to address all of the residents’ medical needs. But people used it as the main place to seek medical care since it was the only hospital they had access to. Assad Hospital served around 20,000 residents. One of my relatives had surgery here six months ago.

Right now, residents are relying completely on Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) clinics for treatment. Those who need surgery and intensive care are dying. These clinics don’t have tools to run tests, X-rays or even conduct surgeries.

People have grown exhausted from the siege, hunger, poverty and spread of disease.

Q: Why don’t residents ask to use the military hospital, especially considering the recent IS shelling of neighborhoods? Some residents have been injured, while others have died because of the shelling, Syria Direct reported on January 19.

People are scared of regime forces and the shabiha. They can’t ask to use the hospital because they may get arrested or killed. Everyone knows that the military hospital is reserved for military personnel.

This reality adds to residents’ fears about the current situation. They’re worried that a disaster may happen if the neighborhoods are bombed, because there aren’t any hospitals. So most people are staying inside their homes since they’re afraid they’ll get injured.

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Jessica Page, Reporter/Translator

Jessica was a 2013-2014 Georgetown University Qatar Scholarship Program fellow in Doha, Qatar. She received her BA in both Arabic and International & Area Studies from Washington University in St. Louis. She has worked and studied in Jordan, Oman, and Qatar.