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‘Kneel or die’ intensifies in west Damascus towns as hospitals hit

AMMAN: The only hospitals in two rebel-held northwest Damascus towns […]

AMMAN: The only hospitals in two rebel-held northwest Damascus towns that are currently negotiating a truce with the Syrian regime were hit by aerial and ground bombardment on Wednesday, inflicting extensive damage and killing two medical personnel.

Al-Hameh and Qudsayah, neighboring towns roughly 10km northwest of the Syrian capital along the Damascus-Beirut highway, have been negotiating a truce with the regime for the past week and a half amidst ongoing regime shelling and aerial bombardment.

Two barrel bombs struck the vicinity of the Al-Salam field hospital in al-Hameh on Wednesday, killing a surgeon and a nurse, injuring other staff members and “damaging approximately 85 percent of our equipment,” Jawad Mardini, an administrator at the hospital told Syria Direct on Thursday.

Pictures from inside the Al-Salam hospital show shattered windows, fallen ceiling tiles, exposed wiring and bloodied surgical scrubs. All the facility’s departments are out of service, Mardini said, and hospital staff have not yet made a decision to repair the hospital or close it permanently.

 Inside Qudsaya’s only hospital following reported regime shelling on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Sham al-Amal.

The Sham al-Amal hospital in neighboring Qudsaya was hit by a tank shell on Wednesday, a hospital employee told Syria Direct on Thursday. The shelling injured three people and prompted the evacuation of the patients to a safer location, the employee said. Sham al-Amal received patients on Thursday, he said, “with severe caution.”

The hospital bombings, one opposition negotiator told Syria Direct on Thursday, represent a continuation of what he calls a “kneel or die” strategy that the Assad regime is imposing.

“The regime is attempting to narrow the options available on the negotiating table,” he told Syria Direct on Thursday. Ongoing bombardment of civilian institutions in the towns is one way to show the towns that the regime holds all the cards.

‘No assurances’

The FSA-ruled towns of al-Hameh and Qudsaya on the western slope of Mount Qasioun in Outer Damascus have an on-again, off-again relationship with the Syrian regime, which controls the entry and exit of the towns’ nearly quarter million residents through its own checkpoints.

Through those checkpoints, the regime has blockaded the towns three times dating back to 2013. Negotiations ended two blockades, but the latest and current encirclement dates back to July 2015, when an FSA faction reportedly kidnapped a Syrian army soldier.

Indications that the towns were moving towards a permanent truce earlier this year were shattered when rebels fired on a regime checkpoint and active fighting resumed in the towns.

 The Al-Salam Hospital in al-Hameh on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Al-Salam Hospital.

Negotiations between a regime delegation and a joint negotiations committee in al-Hameh and Qudsaya began after regime forces attempted to storm the towns about a week and a half ago. The current sticking point in the talks is the regime’s demand that six FSA commanders, among them two regime defectors, leave the towns for rebel-held Idlib province, Syria Direct reported on Wednesday.

Pro-regime news page Damascus Now reported “renewed clashes between the Syrian army and the armed militias” in al-Hameh on Wednesday as the Syrian army “continued to target the movements of al-Hameh gunmen with missiles and heavy artillery.”

“After the bombing, we called on the regime not to repeat the attacks, since they are civilian institutions,” the opposition negotiator told Syria Direct on Thursday.

“The regime refused to discuss the matter, and has not given us any assurances.” 

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