Doctors in besieged enclave still treating new casualties

Paramedics tending to the injuries of a Syrian child, who was wounded during reported bombardment by Syrian and Russian warplanes, at a makeshift clinic in the rebel-held town of Douma, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region of Syria, on Saturday.
Paramedics tending to the injuries of a Syrian child, who was wounded during reported bombardment by Syrian and Russian warplanes, at a makeshift clinic in the rebel-held town of Douma, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region of Syria, on Saturday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIRUT • As the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on a ceasefire to stem spiralling bloodshed in Syria, medics in hospitals across a besieged Damascus enclave said they were treating fresh wounds and waiting for a miracle.

More than 500 people have been killed and 2,500 wounded in a ferocious six-day blitz by Syrian and Russian warplanes on the opposition-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta, according to relief groups and rescue workers. World powers have scrambled to stem the violence, one of the bloodiest periods of Syria's seven-year war, behind closed doors and in charged public meetings at the UN Security Council.

Jaded after successive failed ceasefires, doctors reached by phone said they were wary of raising patients' hopes, and that shelling continued. "The last explosion I heard was five minutes ago. I hope this vote will succeed, but we do not trust Russia," said Dr Hamza Hassan, a doctor supported by the Syrian-American Medical Society, a non-profit group. "We are so exhausted. So exhausted."

American and European officials blamed Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for delaying the vote for two days as Eastern Ghouta's casualty count soared.

Since Saturday, the attacks appeared to target dozens of medical facilities, many of them already buckling under the strain of a five-year siege by Syrian government forces. Doctors Without Borders said that the latest bombardment had left Eastern Ghouta's health network "in its final throes".

Huddled in a single room days earlier, Dr Hassan's colleagues and patients had waited for hours as bombs fell and the most grievously wounded died unattended.

The doctors said the bombardment by forces loyal to Mr Assad was worse than anything they had seen in the war previously. For Dr Hassan, on duty that day, it was the first time he looked at the scared faces in his hospital and knew that many would soon be dead.

His colleagues said they were faced with an impossible task. The blood bags were depleted. So was the anaesthetic. In the corner, medics were gathered around a young man whose skull was hanging open, one of them providing manual respiration, another just holding his hand. "We were so afraid that we would all die there together," Dr Hassan said. "I told those who could to scatter for their safety. It was an impossible decision."

The pace of violence and paucity of resources have forced doctors to choose who lived and died.

"When there is a bombing near the hospital, the floodgates open and we can focus only on the cases with the greatest chances of survival," said Dr Amani Ballour, a medic in one of the enclave's hospitals.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2018, with the headline 'Doctors in besieged enclave still treating new casualties'. Print Edition | Subscribe