November 19, 2013
By Syria Direct news staff
AMMAN: Medical professionals in the East Damascus suburb of Mleiha are calling on the FSA to secure the release of a doctor kidnapped by militants earlier this month, and to provide better security in so-called liberated areas.
Dr. Ahmed Saleem was kidnapped at 10:45am on November 4 by “men dressed like Al-Qaeda members,” according to the independent Violation Documentation Center (VDC), citing a source close to the case.
The doctor was en route to work with the Saving Souls aid organization and passed through an ad hoc checkpoint that appears to have been deliberately set up to kidnap him, the VDC and other local media outlets reported.
“We blame the FSA,” a colleague of Saleem told Syria Direct.
The doctor, who asked to be identified only as Hussam, explained that the FSA itself was unlikely to have carried out the kidnapping, but it nonetheless failed in its responsibility to provide security for Mleiha’s medical personnel.
No group has yet claimed credit for Saleem’s kidnapping, and no information has been released regarding his whereabouts.
Saleem’s abduction is the first reported case of medical personnel being kidnapped in East Ghouta, “which has not witnessed the state of security chaos [that exists in] other ‘liberated’ areas,” the VDC said in a statement.
While the kidnapping of medical professionals by rebels may be new to East Ghouta, it has been widely used elsewhere in Syria by regime forces as what the UN calls “a weapon of war.”
“The clearly established pattern indicates that government forces deliberately target medical personnel to gain military advantage by depriving the opposition and those perceived to support them of medical assistance,” the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry reported in October.
Arrests, attacks and disappearances of health-care professionals have become so commonplace that the general public “often elects not to seek help out of fear of “arrest, detention, torture or death,” the commission stated in its findings.
In a November 9 statement on its Facebook page, the Mleiha Medical Center asked the FSA to investigate the Saleem’s abduction, ensure his release and provide stronger protection for medical professionals in the area—all tasks that the statement describes as “part of the FSA’s responsibilities.”
Dr. Ahmed Saleem was kidnapped on November 4. Photo courtesy of Save a Soul, Eastern Ghouta.
The center added that the kidnapping is “contrary to the values and morals of the revolution.”
The town of Mleiha, which has been under opposition control since late 2012, sits along the dividing line between regime-controlled Damascus and the rebel-held suburbs of East Ghouta.
Like other East Ghouta towns, Mleiha faces daily shelling from regime forces, and for nearly two months has been subjected to a blockade that prevents the entry of food and other essential supplies, said Abu Mansour, a 34 year old Mleiha activist.
According to a member of Mleiha’s Revolutionary Leadership Council, a group of Mleiha citizens attempted to negotiate a truce with government forces that would entail an easing of the blockade, but the FSA rejected the prospect of any such negotiations.
Last month, the rebels captured the sought-after Tamico Complex, the site of a major checkpoint and pharmaceutical factory. The complex is no longer functional, but still holds critical medical supplies that have long been lacking in East Ghouta due to the regime blockade.
The complex is situated on high ground, overlooking the towns of Ein Tarma, Mleiha and Zamalka, and sits along a section of the highway leading from Damascus to East Ghouta.
The UN Relief and Works Agency estimated last month that 33 of Syria’s 88 state hospitals have closed, while the Syrian government reported in March of this year that up to 15 percent of Syria’s doctors had left the country.
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