For the first time, doctors call for truce in Douma

AMMAN: Regime warplanes continued to target the Outer Damascus suburb of Douma on Monday with repeated airstrikes, opposition media reported, one day after doctors and medical personnel in the city organized a protest for the first time calling for a truce to “stop the bloodshed of Syrians, whoever they are.”

Local media reported that surface-to-surface missiles and mortar shells struck residential areas of the city on Monday, killing at least eight people, even as rescue operations continued for those still trapped in the rubble of their homes after six regime airstrikes on Saturday that killed dozens of civilians.

Hundreds of Syrians have been killed or injured in opposition-held towns across Outer Damascus over the past two weeks, with scores killed in Douma alone. The attacks have coincided with battles between regime and opposition forces in the nearby towns of Harasta and Darayya around the capital.

State media has not commented on the airstrikes other than reports about chasing/killing/capturing “terrorists” in East Ghouta. Official regime news agency SANA also reported that mortar fire on several regime-held neighborhoods in Damascus had injured 13 people on Monday and caused “material damages.”

Amidst the ongoing fighting, Douma medical workers demonstrated Sunday for a ceasefire, with photographs posted on social media Sunday by the Douma Coordination Council.

“We want a humanitarian truce, we want a ceasefire from everyone,” one demonstrator’s sign reads.

“Stop the killing,” reads another.

 Medical personnel call for a humanitarian ceasefire in Douma. Photo courtesy of Douma LCC.

The demonstration was the first of its kind in East Ghouta to call for a truce with the regime since armed opposition groups took control of the area three years ago, Muhammad Thaer, one of the participants and a rights activist in Douma told Syria Direct on Monday.

“The number of participants should be higher, but the security situation and the paramedics being busy treating the wounded in recent days does not allow for that,” Thaer said.

At a separate press conference on Sunday, representatives of the Local Council, Unified Medical Office and Civil Defense called on the international community and human rights organizations to pressure the Assad regime to stop the direct bombardment of civilians.

Ongoing barrages of missiles and mortar shelling of Douma and other towns across East Ghouta over the past several days have made the prospect of civil demonstrations a daunting one. Regime air raids on Sunday night caused a number of fires to break out in the city, even as Civil Defense personnel continued rescue efforts for those trapped under what remains of their homes.

“Members of the Civil Defense are busy extracting people from under the rubble,” Muhammad Adam, spokesman for the Civil Defense in Douma told Syria Direct on Monday.

“We suffer from a severe shortage of working personnel and cannot send our members to write signs and photograph them.”

Doctors under fire

In addition to contending with severe shortages of medicine, fuel, emergency response vehicles, rescue equipment and feet on the ground, the medical personnel of East Ghouta also find themselves at personal risk while rescuing and transporting the victims of airstrikes.

An ambulance belonging to the Unified Medical Bureau, an independent collection of doctors and medical staff in East Ghouta with its headquarters in Douma, was partially destroyed in regime bombardment while transporting four injured civilians, the Bureau said on Sunday. Everyone in the vehicle was injured.  

“This is not the first time that Medical Bureau personnel have been injured,” Abu al-Joud, the collective’s administrative director and a doctor told Syria Direct on Monday. “A few days ago, the driver of an ambulance was killed in the city of Harasta due to bombardment.”

 A damaged emergency response vehicle in East Ghouta. Photo courtesy of The Unified Revolutionary Medical Bureau in East Ghouta.

While medical personnel may often fall victim to what opposition activists term indiscriminate attacks against civilian population centers, some others take an additional step by alleging that the regime has directly targeted hospitals and medical personnel in the past.

“Medical humanitarian workers, the Civil Defense and the Red Crescent are all targeted by the regime because their importance [to civilians] makes them a military target,” Abu Adnan, the Unified Medical Bureau’s spokesman told Syria Direct from Douma earlier this year, speaking of strikes that hit doctors’ housing in the city.

In May, mortar shells originating from an unknown source targeted a rare humanitarian convoy entering Douma, killing a Red Crescent volunteer in an attack that local opposition media said came from areas under regime control.

The unrelenting pressure of medical work in East Ghouta has taken a toll on those working in hospitals or as first responders, with some choosing to leave the city, Muwwafaq Abu Basel, a doctor in Douma told Syria Direct in an interview last month.

Some East Ghouta doctors left, he says, “as a result of the prolonged revolution, material necessity, despair, the inability to go on and the loss of security as a result of the repeated regime bombings.”

After three years of regime encirclement, endless collective punishment and no end in sight, doctors are considering the only solution they see for stopping the murder of civilians, says Medical Bureau spokesman Abu Adnan.

“Many of the members of the Medical Bureau agree with a truce.”  

           

 

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011.

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.