3 min read  | Culture & Society, Interviews

Field surgeon: ‘We are being deliberately targeted’


May 20, 2014

May 20, 2014

After three years of conflict, an estimated 15,000 doctors have fled Syria and some 60 percent of medical facilities lie in ruin.

“A lot of the wounded are dying in front of their families due to the lack of medical care,” the pro-opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights wrote in April.

Exacerbating the challenges of practicing medicine in a war zone, doctors and hospitals themselves are often targeted.

“Hospitals, field clinics, ambulances and vehicles transporting medicine and medical supplies have been deliberately targeted for destruction by government and opposition forces,” the international non-governmental organization Physicians for Human Rights reported in March. “Medical personnel have also been arrested, tortured, executed and disappeared.”

Medical personnel have increasingly been targeted by both pro- and anti-Assad forces in Syria’s civil war. Photo courtesy of Disability Rights Syria.

In towns and cities across rebel-held areas of Syria, a number of humanitarian organizations, national and international, have established field hospitals – makeshift facilities seeking to address the mounting number of untreated patients but often lacking qualified personnel and equipment.

In Kessab, a majority-Armenian town along Syria’s northern border with Turkey for which rebels and government troops have been waging a push-pull battle, a surgeon at the local field hospital says his line of work is becoming increasingly dangerous.

“The aim is to kill the wounded,” the surgeon, 52, who asked to remain unnamed, tells Mohammed al-Haj Ali, “so they will not return to the battlefield.” The hospital where he works is funded by an array of international NGOs and local charities and has been reportedly targeted “by bullets and shelling.”

Q: In your opinion, why are hospitals and medical staff targeted? Is it deliberate?

The aim is to kill the wounded. That way, they will not return to the battlefield. Also, [the hospital] is a place where people, the ill and the wounded, gather. The goal is to kill as many as possible and instill horror and fear. We are being deliberately targeted, especially when we announced we were in need of people to donate blood.

Q: You work as a doctor in a field hospital. What are the biggest challenges you face?

The scarcity of equipment and specialists. The lack of doctors is due to security reasons – among them shelling, targeting and persecution. Also, [another difficulty is] the targeting of field hospitals and equipment, for example when the regime seizes field hospitals and destroys all the equipment. There is a lack of ambulances as well.

Q: How do you deal with the targeting of medical staff?

We always use a decoy car when we send an ambulance, and we remove all identifying markings from the car so that it is not targeted. Ambulances have repeatedly faced bullets and shelling; the hospital was targeted by warplanes and shelling multiple times. For that reason, the operating theater is on the lower floors, and we fortified it with sandbags.

Q: Who receives treatment? Are they civilian or military?

We do not care who we treat, no matter his religion or political affiliation. Thanks be to God, my goal is humanitarian. I do not focus on anything else. I have treated soldiers from the regime’s army that were prisoners of war, and I have treated some of our Armenian brothers.

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