Doctors under siege

28th January 2015 by Judith Harvey

Doctors under siege

In 2011, Hamza was a young Syrian doctor learning German in the hope of going abroad for specialist training. Then the civil war broke out and he opted to stay in Aleppo, operating in makeshift hospitals on the people wounded by collapsing buildings, by barrel bombs, by snipers. Five years later government forces, backed up by the Russians, were one street away. Reluctantly, he and his team accepted last-minute deal brokered by Turkey and Russia to permit them to leave, and so to live.

We know how normal life choices shrank to survival in rebel-held East Aleppo because Waad al-Kateab, a young journalist who became Hamza’s wife, was there with her camera. She gave birth in besieged Aleppo and the film is for her daughter, Sama. So she will be able to understand why her parents made the choices they did. And so that we too can understand.

Hospitals are protected under international humanitarian law. Yet, the Syrian regime targets anywhere that people may congregate. We see the dust clouds arising from bombing throughout the city. Rudimentary hospitals are created underground where they may not be detected. People are safer from the bombs there, but not from the chlorine gas which is heavier than air and seeps into the cellars where they operate in cramped space with limited medical supplies. They are short of water. There are weevils in their meager stock of rice. We hear the airstrikes getting nearer and nearer. The power fails and someone holding a switched-on camera stumbles down dark stairways.

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