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Repeated bombings force Daraa hospital closures

AMMAN: Hospitals and clinics are closing in Daraa province amidst […]

AMMAN: Hospitals and clinics are closing in Daraa province amidst heavy Russian and regime bombings in recent weeks, with one activist telling Syria Direct on Thursday that “most of the field hospitals in the east Daraa countryside are out of service now.”

Four hospitals in the countryside around the provincial capital closed after staff reportedly met on Wednesday, local news site Yaqeen reported, citing the “precision targeting” of hospitals andongoing risk to medical personnel and patients.

An airstrike knocked a fifth hospital out of service on Tuesday in the town of Saida, 7km east of Daraa city, killing two people and injured dozens of others, including medical personnel, Doctor Muhammad al-Hiraki, the hospital’s director told Syria Direct on Thursday.

“The hospital served the entire eastern [countryside] with surgical operations, and we conducted complex surgeries despite the lack of support,” al-Hiraki said. The hospital had previously been knocked offline by a bombing last year.

Hospital bombings terrify Daraa residents, al-Hiraki says. “They believe that hospitals are bringing calamity to the area because they are directly targeted.”

 Daraa Civil Defense personnel move a wounded resident to a field hospital on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Daraa Civil Defense.

The hospitals are among eight medical facilities in opposition-held Daraa province to close their doors since the beginning of the year.

Diverse rebel factions, mostly moderate FSA brigades, control the majority of Daraa province, which stretches from Outer Damascus to the Jordanian border. Regime forces hold territory in the northern Daraa countryside as well as along the Damascus-Daraa highway.

Advancing under the cover of airstrikes and ground bombardment, regime forces and allied militias are gaining ground against rebel brigades on multiple fronts north of Daraa’s provincial capital, part of a military escalation that began this past December to seize control of key supply routes in the province’s mostly opposition-held countryside.

Over the past six weeks, dozens of daily bombings in Daraa, reportedly by regime and Russian forces, have sparked mass displacement and damaged civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and schools, opposition sources say.

While opposition activists and medical personnel told Syria Direct this week that regime forces and Russian warplanes are targeting civilian targets in Daraa, it is difficult to independently verify the source of individual airstrikes and whether or not damage to civilian institutions is intentional.

Russian authorities remain adamant that their military operations in Syria target terrorist groups.

What is clear is that Daraa’s medical facilities are coming under direct fire and being forced to close, straining the province’s already tenuous medical infrastructure.

 Inside the Future Hospital in Daraa’s al-Ghariyah al-Gharbiyah last week after two days of alleged regime and Russian airstrikes. Photo courtesy of Future Hospital.

“Most of the field hospitals in the east Daraa countryside are out of service now,” said Jasir al-Saidawi, president of the opposition Local Council in Saida.

Airstrikes of unknown origin also struck a hospital in Tafas, a town 9km northwest of Daraa city, last Friday that “killed three people and wounded at least six, including a nurse,” Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) tweeted.

MSF provides support in the form of distance training and medical equipment to medical facilities in both regime and opposition-controlled territories across Syria, including the Tafas hospital.

Bombings destroy scarce equipment, while vaccines and medication for chronic illnesses are also in short supply, Ammar al-Zayid, a media activist in the east Daraa countryside told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

“Most of the hospitals in Daraa have moderate capabilities,” Muhammad Saleh, a pathologist working in Daraa told pro-opposition AlSouria on Wednesday. “No single hospital can receive 10 injured at one time.”

When bombs land on field hospitals, civil defense and medical personnel move patients to the nearest working facility, which may even be in another town.

In Saida, medical personnel have formed mobile medical teams “to treat the wounded in their homes” before an alternate field hospital can be found, said hospital director al-Hiraki.

The local councils “are working to repair” hospitals damaged in recent bombings, media activist al-Zayid says, “but most of the time they are moved to another location or to basements to avoid being targeted again.”

Earlier this month, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien called on all warring parties to “immediately halt all actions that might result in civilian loss of life and damage” and “refrain from targeting medical and other civilian infrastructure,” in a statement quoted by Moscow’s official TASS agency.

“Since the start of this year alone, 13 health facilities in Syria have been hit,” MSF wrote in a report released on Tuesday, adding that “the repeated attacks on medical facilities in the ongoing conflict constitute a flagrant violation of international laws.”

Despite the dangers, Daraa medical personnel are determined to keep working, hospital director al-Hiraki says.

“We have vowed to continue our humanitarian work despite everything that’s happening and our being targeted by warplanes.”

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