Violence in Syria’s largest city has escalated so dramatically that hospitals there are being forced “to choose
patients to save because there aren’t enough doctors to treat everyone,” a surgeon there wrote on Wednesday.
The epicentre of Syria’s brutal civil war shifted decisively last week to the divided city of Aleppo.
There, warplanes loyal to the government have been dropping bombs with “such ferocity that even the stones are catching fire,” Osama Abo El Ezz, the Aleppo coordinator for the Syrian American Medical Society, wrote in a New York Times op-ed.
“As one of the few remaining doctors in Syria, I have watched the ‘cessation of hostilities’ that was agreed on in February crumble,” El Ezz said, referring to a truce between government and rebel forces brokered by the US and Russia just over two months ago in Geneva.
He continued: “We know that for the community we serve we represent a last hope, the final defenders of life in this city. But we are also among the fallen. We have all lost medical brothers and sisters to barrel bombs and missile strikes, but we keep on working through the night.”
An airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo last week prompted international outcry as the fragile ceasefire collapsed and the city erupted in a new wave of violence that has resulted in a “catastrophic deterioration” of the city.
Under a new ceasefire arrangement, US and Russian military officials “will be sitting at the same table” at a coordination center in Geneva to monitor and document any violations of the truce, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday, in a news conference from Moscow with the UN’s envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura.
The truce will include Aleppo moving forward.
But Jeff White, a military analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the plan “likely won’t hold up.”
“This is a military-technical fix to what is essentially a political-strategic problem,” White said on Twitter. “Also, it seems that Russia has succeeded in getting the US officially involved in its (and regime) operations in Syria.”
Indeed, Russia — a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — initially refused to include Aleppo in the cessation of hostilities agreement because of al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra’s presence in parts of the city, which it used to justify the continued airstrikes. As a result, joint US-Russian efforts to end regime bombardments there have largely been made on Moscow’s terms.
At least 250 people have been killed in Aleppo since April 22, including at least 40 children. Aleppo’s last pediatrician, Dr. Mohammad Moaz, was killed in the strike on Al-Quds hospital. His final moments were captured on CCTV cameras just before the hospital was reduced to rubble.
“We are running out of coffins to bury our friends, family and colleagues,” El Ezz wrote.
Government forces, while able to inflict larger-scale massacres with airstrikes, are not exclusively to blame. At least three people were killed and 17 wounded when rebels shelled a maternity clinic in a government-held area of Aleppo on Tuesday, in the sixth assault on a medical facility in the city in less than a week.
The violence forced the city to cancel its Friday prayers “for the first time in Aleppo’s centuries-long history” last week. It prompted Lina Sergie, an activist from Aleppo, to “think that perhaps we have crossed a line” in the war “that has never been crossed before.”
Indeed, many in the besieged city have already lost hope and are now simply “waiting for death,” El Ezz wrote. “Some people even pray for its swift arrival to take them away from this burning city.”
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