AMMAN: The Daraa al-Balad field hospital has shut down operations apart from emergency first response following a series of thefts of medical equipment, as local rebel brigades responsible for security in the area remain unable or unwilling to provide protection.
“The hospital made the decision to close down because of repeated incidents of theft without any intervention [from local actors] to help or solve this problem,” Abdul Rahman al-Musalima, a doctor and the director of the hospital, told Syria Direct Tuesday.
“There's a single guard protecting the hospital because of a lack of funds for any more,” he added.
The Daraa al-Balad field hospital, comprised of three adjacent buildings, contains 25 beds and receives between 6,500 and 7,000 patients a month, said al-Musalima. Hospital staff are equipped to treat all types of internal and external injuries, as well as provide obstetric and dental care.
Daraa al-Balad, the rebel-controlled southern half of Daraa city, has long suffered from a lack of security provided by ruling rebel brigades, culminating in a string of assassinations of FSA leaders and citizen journalists in the southern province in recent months. The north part of the provincial capital is ruled by Syrian regime forces.
In September, residents organized a protest in which they condemned rebels for failing to protect their lives and property from "criminal and pro-Assad gangs", reported pro-opposition Syria News Desk. During the protest, some residents went so far as to accuse rebel brigades of “treason.”
The largest rebel brigades in Daraa al-Balad are the FSA-affiliated March 18 Brigade and the Islamist Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiya.
Daraa al-Balad field hospital's emergency room in October. Photo courtesy of Daraa al-Balad field hospital.
When reached for comment on the hospital thefts, a commander in the March 18 Brigade placed “a large part of the responsibility” on hospital administrative and technical staff for failing to secure the equipment. As for the identity of the thieves, “it's not hard for the regime to send some of its agents to mess around with the hospital from the inside,” spokesman Rahhal Rahhal told Syria Direct Tuesday.
A Harakat a-Muthanna spokesman, Abu Shima, called the thefts “regrettable” and a “security breach” in an interview with Syria Direct Tuesday.
“In my opinion, the hospital needs to be guarded by the local rebel brigades—these [thefts] are a lesson to all [about the need for such security],” said Abu Shima.
It is unclear whether the most recent incidents of theft at the Daraa al-Balad field hospital targeted specific equipment or were crimes of opportunity. While al-Musalima declined to disclose exactly which equipment the thieves made off with, he said that the missing items “would affect the hospital's ability to provide emergency and dental care, operate clinics and generate electricity.”
Most of the incidents occurred during the day as doctors were busy with their work, especially after treating patients wounded in regime bombings, he added.
“The hospital thefts that are occurring, and thefts at other institutions, are amoral and inhumane, and reflect the state of chaos and weakness of the [rebel] security administration in protecting revolutionary institutions,” Jawwad al-Musalima, a civilian living in Daraa al-Balad of no direct relation to Dr. Musalima, told Syria Direct Tuesday.
The field hospital administration has raised several complaints to the local rebel brigades operational in the city, but they “didn't take any measures in this regard,” an unnamed source from the administration was quoted by pro-opposition Smart News as saying Monday.
Citizens will still have access to health care after the Daraa al-Balad field hospital closes, said the director. The administration coordinated with the nearby Aisa Ejaj hospital to receive all of Daraa al-Balad's cases and provide an adequate level of care to residents.
The hospital's cessation of operations will, however, have a psychological impact on civilians, said Jawwad al-Musalima.
“These thefts make people feel a sense of fear, of insecurity and constant anxiety over their lives and property,” he said.
“The Free Syrian army and all active rebel brigades are responsible.”