Injured by one of 8,000 landmines in desperate escape bid, Madaya man faces double amputation

Last Friday, Ali Mustafa Yunis, 45, made his move. His wife and children had left the Outer Damascus town of Madaya last July. Ali settled them in to al-Rowda, 5km south, and then returned to Madaya to tie up loose ends before joining them.

Days later, Hezbollah completed its strangling encirclement of the town, completely cutting off any movement in or out. To that end, Hezbollah planted 8,000 mines around Madaya’s perimeter.

At least 30 civilians have been killed by landmines or snipers trying to pass through Madaya's security cordon, according to a January 2016 report by the Syrian American Medical Society.

Syria Direct could not interview Ali Yunis, and we may never know why he decided to risk leaving one of the most heavily mined towns in Syria. But on September 30, under the cover of night, Yunis left the encircled town on foot. Minutes later, he stepped on a landmine.

The explosion shattered Yunis’s two feet, rendering them into mangled lumps of charred skin, broken bones and dead tissue.

Ali Yunis is one of 50 Madaya residents injured by landmines since last September. Today, he lies in a hospital, with no antibiotics or surgeons to assist him.

Yunis’s left leg “can’t sustain more swelling or decay,” Mohammed Darwish, Madaya’s leading medical professional, tells Syria Direct’s Alaa Nasser.

“He needs immediate surgery,” added Darwish, who only has anti-inflammation medication and painkillers in his hospital with which to treat Ali.

 Ali, at a hospital in Madaya. Photo courtesy of Madaya Photos

On Thursday, Yunis’s left foot will be amputated. Without being evacuated from Madaya, his right one will likely follow.

The last medical evacuation occurred on September 8 when 11 Madaya residents were evacuated, Syria Direct reported at the time.

Q: What made Ali risk his life by trying to cross the minefield? Where was he trying to go?

Ali, who lives alone, was trying to see his wife and four children, who he hasn’t seen for 16 months. He has never seen his youngest son who was born outside of Madaya. He wanted to escape so he could reunite with his family.

He was heading towards al-Rowda, a city 5km south of Madaya. He was attempting to break the siege by himself.

Q: What injuries did he sustain? How is his health now, six days after the event?

His condition is very bad. The landmine blew up his lower legs and shattered his bones, resulting in deep wounds and fractures. He needs immediate surgery and plates [to set his bones].

He needs to be evacuated immediately to a hospital in Damascus. His wound tissue has started to swell and decay. We can’t do anything except give him painkillers and anti-inflammation medication. This won’t help him much because his wounds are deep and he needs urgent surgery.

We’re afraid that the swelling will spread and he’ll develop gangrene tissue in his legs. If he isn’t evacuated, we’ll be forced to amputate his lower left leg to save his life. We’re trying to preserve his deteriorating health but we don’t have specialized doctors or enough supplies to perform the surgery he needs.

It’s important to note that he needs to be evacuated today at the latest. If not, his left leg will be amputated.

Q: Have you amputated limbs of other Madaya residents who were injured by landmines? Were any of them evacuated to Damascus?

Yes, 50 people have been injured by landmines since September 2015, 10 of whom have died. We had to amputate the limbs of 14 residents because we lack the medical expertise to treat them. They now have prosthetic limbs.

No one has been evacuated to Damascus. Residents either died immediately or their limbs were amputated before an agreement was reached to evacuate them.

Q: Did you contact the UN? How did they respond?

Yes, we have asked the UN multiple times these past six days to evacuate him. They always claim that they can’t evacuate him unless a resident from Fuaa or Kafariya is also evacuated, according to the Four Towns agreement.

[Ed.: The “Four Towns Agreement,” between rebels and the regime, stipulates parallel aid deliveries and evacuations for four encircled towns: Madaya and Zabadani in Outer Damascus and Fuaa and Kafariya in Idlib province.]

After we contacted the Victory Army, they informed us of an agreement to evacuate 27 sick and injured residents today, in return for 27 evacuations from Fuaa and Kafariya. But until now, no one has been evacuated.

We heard news from the Victory Army that the Iranian side of the negotiation is delaying the evacuation. Until now, we don’t know when the Red Crescent will enter to evacuate residents.

Q: If SARC doesn’t enter today [Wednesday], will you amputate his lower legs tomorrow?

Unfortunately yes. His left leg can’t sustain more swelling or decay. We’ll have to amputate his left leg up to his knee, since his foot is completely shattered. As for his right leg, we may be able to stop the swelling and save it with anti-inflammation medication.

I believe that even if he’s evacuated to Damascus, there’s an 80 percent chance that doctors will decide to amputate his left leg because of the delay in treatment. It’s in bad condition.

As for his right leg, if he’s evacuated to Damascus, then doctors will be able to treat it and save it from amputation.

Alaa Nassar

Alaa was forced to flee Damascus with her family because of the pressure from the Syrian regime in 2013. She was a student of Arabic Language & Literature at the University of Damascus. She came to Syria Direct because she hopes to find a new direction in her life and to show the world what is happening in her country.

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.