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Syrian Regime Targets Health Workers, Hospitals In Aleppo


A U.S. and Russia-brokered cease-fire in Aleppo, Syria, is stretching into overtime. It started Wednesday and was supposed last 48 hours, but the Syrian state news agency now says it's being given another three days. This good news hardly makes up for a gruesome springtime of bloodshed in that city. Especially alarming, a string of attacks on medical facilities, including al-Quds hospital where some 50 were killed. Aleppo surgeon Osama Abo El Ezz wrote an op-ed piece this week for The New York Times with the desperate title "In Aleppo, We Are Running Out Of Coffins." We reached him via Skype and producer Noor Wazwaz interpreted.

OSAMA ABO EL EZZ: (Foreign language spoken).

NOOR WAZWAZ: "The problems for a physician in Aleppo are very completed. With the bombings the destruction and killing throughout the city, the death threats and all that happened to our colleagues in al-Quds hospital, they are in a difficult situation with absolutely no security. In a city like Aleppo, you have to sacrifice people's lives to save others due to a lack of workers and limited resources. But the main problem is the increased amount of casualties. When there are more casualties, the only thing you can do is triage surgeries and give the best you can to save lives.

NEARY: Can you give us an example of that?

EL EZZ: (Foreign language spoken).

WAZWAZ: "I can give you multiple examples. Once, we had a large number of casualties at the same time. It was just I and one other surgeon in the hospital. There were multiple cases that needed open stomach surgery. I only took the ones that I could maybe save at the cost of other cases where death was likely. If there is a patient we have to transfer to another hospital and it's likely he could die during the move and we give him our valuable time, we are risking the lives of others who we can save."

NEARY: Now, for decades now, medical institutions, health workers, hospitals, have always been protected in war. And you're saying - you said in your piece in The New York Times this no longer applies in this conflict, right?

EL EZZ: (Foreign language spoken).

WAZWAZ: "The regime's goal is to empty the city, banish the people of Aleppo. So the regime directly targets medical institutions and health workers to deprive civilians from these services. When the services are no longer available, people have to leave the city and the regime can take over. In the war that the Syrian regime is mounting against its civilians, they are directly targeting medical institutions and health workers.

We saw this with our own eyes when a hospital that treats children was bombed. Three clinics were bombed. Thirty to 50 workers in the hospital were killed, including a dentist, a pediatrician and a nurse. And as a result, they can no longer serve the people. So the war that's happening in Syria, doctors and health workers are being targeted directly."

NEARY: I know that pediatrician who died was a friend of yours. Can you tell us a little bit about him?

EL EZZ: (Foreign language spoken).

WAZWAZ: "Dr. Muhammad Wassim was very respected, very brave and courageous. He refused to leave Aleppo despite the difficult conditions and preferred to fulfill his human obligation. He remained in Aleppo because there are children in the city who need him. To be honest, it was an assassination to childhood because he was administering treatment for hundreds of innocent children who are now deprived of pediatric services. He was an amazing individual. He was very calm and compassionate and kind. He was dedicated to his career until the last moment of his life."

NEARY: You said you believe the regime is really trying to force doctors and the whole population to leave. Have you considered leaving yourself?

EL EZZ: (Foreign language spoken).

WAZWAZ: "If I stay in in Aleppo too long, I become mentally distraught, so every now and then I take a trip to Turkey to see my family. I have two girls - 5 and 4 years old - and one son. He's a year old. They live there. So there I get some rest and then I return to Aleppo. But to permanently leave Aleppo, to be honest, we cannot allow this murderer to take away our beautiful city and we health workers cannot allow ourselves to be the reason people flee. As long as we remain in the city, the civilians are encouraged to stay. If we leave, we are telling civilians to leave their homes because there isn't anyone to treat them.

So we are standing with our people. We stand with the people who trusted us in this war. We are standing with the people who are holding on to their land because this is the right solution for the Syrian people. This is our land. This is our city. We will not allow the regime to take it from us no matter what they do."

NEARY: Dr. Osama Abo El Ezz is a surgeon and coordinator for the Syrian American Medical Society. We spoke to him from Aleppo, Syria, and he reached us via Skype. Thank you very much.

EL EZZ: Thank you, thank you very much for your efforts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Noor Wazwaz