Fifteen of the remaining doctors in the bombarded city of Aleppo, Syria, have warned President Obama in an open letter that 300,000 people could die if medical facilities continue being wiped out by Bashar al-Assad and his militias.
The ancient city was one of Syria’s largest before the war began in 2011, and has been ripped to shreds by battles, Russian air strikes and Assad’s barrel bombs.
“We are 15 of the last doctors serving the remaining 300,000 citizens of eastern Aleppo. Regime troops have sought to surround and blockade the entire east of the city. Their losses have meant that a trickle of food has made its way into eastern Aleppo for the first time in weeks. Whether we live or die seems to be dependent on the ebbs and flows of the battlefield,” the doctors — including pediatricians, surgeons, an orthopedist, an OB/GYN, a neurologist, and a urologist — wrote to Obama.
“We have seen no effort on behalf of the United States to lift the siege or even use its influence to push the parties to protect civilians,” they added.
“For five years, we have faced death from above on a daily basis. But we now face death from all around. For five years, we have borne witness as countless patients, friends and colleagues suffered violent, tormented deaths. For five years, the world has stood by and remarked how ‘complicated’ Syria is, while doing little to protect us. Recent offers of evacuation from the regime and Russia have sounded like thinly-veiled threats to residents – flee now or face annihilation?”
In July, they somberly noted, there were 42 attacks on medical facilities in Syria, “15 of which were hospitals in which we work.”
“Right now, there is an attack on a medical facility every 17 hours. At this rate, our medical services in Aleppo could be completely destroyed in a month, leaving 300,000 people to die,” the doctors wrote. “What pains us most, as doctors, is choosing who will live and who will die. Young children are sometimes brought into our emergency rooms so badly injured that we have to prioritize those with better chances, or simply don’t have the equipment to help them. Two weeks ago, four newborn babies gasping for air suffocated to death after a blast cut the oxygen supply to their incubators. Gasping for air, their lives ended before they had really begun.”
“Despite the horror, we choose to be here. We took a pledge to help those in need.”
They stressed that “continued U.S. inaction to protect the civilians of Syria means that our plight is being willfully tolerated by those in the international corridors of power.”
“The burden of responsibility for the crimes of the Syrian government and its Russian ally must therefore be shared by those, including the United States, who allow them to continue,” they wrote. “Unless a permanent lifeline to Aleppo is opened it will be only a matter of time until we are again surrounded by regime troops, hunger takes hold and hospitals’ supplies run completely dry.”
“Death has seemed increasingly inescapable. We do not need to tell you that the systematic targeting of hospitals by Syrian regime and Russian warplanes is a war crime. We do not need to tell you that they are committing atrocities in Aleppo. We do not need tears or sympathy or even prayers, we need your action.”
State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters today that the U.S. “has repeatedly condemned indiscriminate bombing of medical facilities by the Assad regime in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria.”
“The attacks, I think as illustrated in this letter, are appalling; they must cease,” she said.
“We commend the bravery of medical processionals across Syria who are working every day in perilous circumstances with minimal supplies to save lives. The U.S. is working continually to address the crisis in Syria through the UN, engaging with Russia and others, to find a diplomatic approach to reduce the violence in a sustainable way and allow unimpeded, lifesaving humanitarian access into places like Aleppo. The conflict in Syria requires a diplomatic political solution. This is the only thing that can end the bloodshed.”
Dr. Hussein, a Syrian pediatrician who manages a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in eastern Aleppo, told the group that “before the siege, the hospital used to see between 8,000 and 10,000 patients a month; this was cut in half by the beginning of July.”
“Not only that, but also most of the patients then were war wounded, and a number of them were internal and pediatrics emergencies,” Hussein said, adding that intensive care units are overloaded and patients are dying from broken oxygen purifiers.
The hospital has been hit three times by bombings, with damage sustained in July that forced it to close for 10 days.
“People are scared to go to hospitals,” he said. “They see them as potential targets. They only come to us now if it is an absolute emergency.”