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Paramedic trapped in rubble after Aleppo hospital bombing: ‘I saw people take their last breaths in front of me’

Taiseer Tayiba, a paramedic in the west Aleppo countryside, was […]

3 August 2016

Taiseer Tayiba, a paramedic in the west Aleppo countryside, was sitting in the administration office on the ground floor in Kafr Hamra hospital on July 14 when “the office furniture started falling on top of us,” he tells Syria Direct’s Bahira al-Zarier.

Tayiba was visiting the hospital, 1okm northwest of Aleppo, with a delegation of local health officials when warplanes “showered artillery projectiles and missiles” on the building.

On July 14, alleged Russian warplanes shelled Kafr Hamra hospital, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported.

Local news sources reported the same day that warplanes dropped 25 barrel bombs, 40 vacuum missiles, cluster bombs and 150 artillery rockets on the hospital, rendering it inoperable.

Syrian state media did not report the attack.

The shelling destroyed all five floors of the hospital, killed eight hospital examiners and injured six paramedics, said Tayiba.

The father of three stayed trapped in the hospital basement without electricity for two hours as planes repeatedly struck the facility.

Taiseer Tayiba conducts first aid on an infant. Photo courtesy of Taiseer Tayiba.

“We were scared and confused, surrounded by absolute darkness and dust that almost suffocated us,” Tayiba says.

“I saw people take their last breaths in front of me.”

Syria Direct followed up with Tayiba on August 3. He was treating civilians in nearby Atareb city, which was hit by nine airstrikes the same day, the Aleppo Civil Defense reported.

Q: What were you doing at the time of the strike?

At about one in the afternoon, when the first strike hit the hospital, we were sitting in the Administration Office on the first floor. We heard a huge explosion and the office furniture started falling on top of us. It was a strike from a warplane.

Q: What did you do?

After the first strike, we headed immediately to the basement where the operations theater and patient rooms were located. We began assisting some of the people who were injured in the first strike. We had barely begun when the plane struck a second, third, and fourth time. The lights went out because the electricity generator short-circuited. We stumbled around in the dark.

We decided to evacuate the hospital. As soon as a group of people began leaving, another plane struck the hospital four consecutive times. This destroyed the north part of the hospital and trapped us inside behind wreckage and heaps of rubble.

Many of the hospital crew were injured. We were just confused and afraid. So we stayed in the basement, waiting for our fate. The plane showered artillery projectiles and missiles upon us.

Eight civilians, who were hospital examiners, died and six paramedics were injured.

We couldn’t hear anything except for bombs and rubble falling on top of us, piling up.

We stayed in the basement for two and a half hours until one of the paramedics went up to the ground floor and started yelling that there’s a breach in one of the walls that the last bomb created.

We escaped through the hole in the wall. It was a miracle.

Q: What was going through your mind while you were trapped in the basement?

I cried out of fear. If there weren’t other people with me, I would have thought that I was dead. We were scared and confused, surrounded by absolute darkness and dust that almost suffocated us.

Confusion was the strongest feeling because there were injured people and we couldn’t do anything for them. I stood unable to help someone who needed me. I saw people take their last breaths in front of me. But I couldn’t do anything.

Q: After you escaped through the breach on the ground floor, where did you go?

We ran quickly with people who had light injuries, knowing that the bombing was still happening and hadn’t stopped, not even for a minute. We began leaving one after the other. Those with more serious injuries, who had been in the hospital prior to the attack, stayed behind because they couldn’t walk or run. As we were running from the hospital a rocket-assisted projectile fell among us. My friend was hurt in his side and we carried him as we ran to the closest building to the hospital.

Luckily we found a basement in a residential building, about 200 meters away from Kafr Hamra Hospital. We hurried towards it and hid. There were other civilians inside. We sat inside helping each other as the bombing and strikes continued.

It was as if Judgment Day had come.

We were there for two hours. We hid as the shells fell on the civilian building that we were hiding in.

So we decided to find another place. We carried my injured friend with us and we began running 200 meters toward a safer place as shells were falling around us.

We made it to another hospital, about 300 meters away from the residential building.

The Civil Defense arrived and began their rescue work. Five Civil Defense members and paramedics were injured because of the continuous bombing in the area.

Q: Were you injured?

Light bruises. I was transported to the ambulance station in west Aleppo countryside, where several doctors ran tests and told me that I didn’t have to go to the hospital.

[Ed.: The same ambulance station was destroyed by airstrikes four days later, Syria Direct reported.]

Q: After being targeted, will you continue your work?

Yes. We will continue our humanitarian work so we can provide medical services and emergency assistance to injured people in this circular war in Syria, despite all the risks that stare us down and pursue us everywhere we go. But this is our fate and we will continue, God willing.

Q: What do you think about the targeting of medical facilities?

Targeting hospitals, doctors, ambulances and medical facilities is a war crime. Human rights organizations and the international community and the World Health Organization are responsible for this.

Q: Are you well compensated for your work?

My salary is $200/month, but it depends on how much is available to the Health Directorate. I haven’t received a salary since November. 

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