AMMAN: In one Damascus suburb, a gang war is playing itself out in the town’s only medical clinic, which has been forced to close after rebel brigades stole equipment and used the facility in an attempt to scam humanitarian organizations for aid.
The only medical clinic in Kiswa, 18km south of Damascus city in West Ghouta, closed on October 29 because of “a lack of coverage for routine expenses” and an “unsuitable environment to continue working,” according to the clinic’s statement the same day.
The clinic’s statement did not elaborate on what the “unsuitable environment” was, but in a recent interview with Syria Direct, its former director said that two of the ruling factions in the rebel-controlled south of Kiswa had been lifting medical equipment and photographing the facility in order to convince humanitarian organizations that the clinic was run by them.
“I discovered they were using the pictures to get support and aid” from humanitarian organizations by claiming to be in charge of the medical center, said the director, who asked to be referred to as Abu Bakr. Last month, members of the Islamic Union of Ajnad a-Sham showed up at the clinic and started photographing the facility and patients, he added.
Opened in late 2013, the independently run clinic provided treatment for the more than 40,000 civilians living in Kiswa, including many internally displaced Syrians from Homs, West Ghouta and southern Damascus. Staff also treated injured fighters from all rebel military factions thanks to support from various humanitarian organizations.
Kiswa is a divided town: Regime forces control the northern half and have surrounded the town’s entire south, resulting in a total blockade with no entry or exit permitted.
The southern half of Kiswa is controlled by two rebel factions. The Islamic Union of Ajnad a-Sham is an alliance encompassing several local Islamist brigades that receives external funding, likely from Saudi Arabia. The second is Liwa al-Haqq, a smaller local outfit that only receives “internal support from the residents [of the area],” Abu Muhammad, a spokesman for Liwa al-Haqq, told Syria Direct.
The spokesman denied that Liwa al-Haqq stole surgical equipment from the clinic and put it in their storehouses. He went further to deny that any rebel faction was stealing from the clinic.
“There isn’t stealing or confiscating of any aid,” said Abu Muhammad.
Not true, says Kiswa citizen journalist Yousef Sham. The Islamic Union of Ajnad a-Sham and Liwa al-Haqq infiltrated the medical clinic so the rebels can use the names and titles of staff “to gain access to humanitarian organizations that will only send aid to non-combatants” such as medical professionals, Sham said.
“Either you join them or they take away the aid,” said Sham.
The clinic is a microcosm of a larger struggle for scarce resources within the blockaded south of Kiswa, residents say. Stuck on a metaphorical desert island, residents and activists describe a Lord of the Flies atmosphere where even the only medical facility transforms into a battleground in the brigades’ zero-sum game.
“The two factions are like a cat and a mouse: They hate each other and fight in order to divvy up what aid comes to the poor people who have no control over their situation,” a resident of Kiswa told Syria Direct.
Abu Bakr, the director of the now closed medical center, told Syria Direct that Kiswa can best be described as a cake: Whoever steals the most will be “the victor who devours the largest piece.”
‘Reverting back to the regime’s corruption’
While there are clinics open just blocks away in regime-held Kiswa, a regime imposed blockade since April 2014 prevents anyone from rebel-controlled parts of the city from entering.
“How can we treat our sick?” asked a Kiswa resident whose elderly mother suffers from heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. “Treatment and medication were available to her before for free, but now I can’t get her help,” said the resident, who requested anonymity.
Civilians say they are fed up with the power struggle between the two brigades that “pursue their own interests over the interests of the people,” Abu Firas, a second Kiswa resident, told Syria Direct.
“They liberated our homes to be rid of corruption and oppression and then reverted back to the regime’s corruption by stealing and tearing what remains of Syria to pieces in order to serve their own interests.”
The Kiswa resident whose elderly mother no longer has options for medical treatment agrees.
“We had Bashar, but now we have a thousand individuals just like him.”