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Targeted attacks on medical services

Conrad Naomi / jrb
June 6, 2013

Even clinics, doctors and patients are coming increasingly under fire in Syria. The medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders is calling on the German government to put pressure on the Assad regime.

Young Palestinian Foto: Thomas Rassloff/dpa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Another doctor was shot in Aleppo a few weeks ago.

"A couple of policemen entered his office and just shot him," said a Syrian doctor, who lives in Germany and asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. His friend had refused to continue collaborating with Syrian security forces, and was found dead the following day.

"Patients, personnel and clinics are being specifically targeted," said Tancred Stöbe, chairman of the German branch of Doctors Without Borders.

Hospitals and ambulances destroyed

The medical relief organization says it is currently operating five clinics in Syria, located in inconspicuous homes or mountain caves. The organization refuses to disclose their exact locations to protect patients and staff from attacks. Nearly 60 percent of all hospitals and 80 percent of all ambulances have been destroyed in the fighting over the past two years.

The security situation is Syria is extremely difficult, Stöbe said at the organization's annual conference in Berlin. "There is no security guarantee for our people," explained managing director Frank Dörner.

Tankred Stöbe, Foto: Matthias Balk dpa/lbn pixel
Stöbe says Syria will need humanitarian aid for yearsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

International humanitarian law grants hospitals, patients and physicians special protection from parties involved in conflicts. But Doctor Without Borders has been observing a disturbing trend in recent years. "The international humanitarian legal protection is eroding," said Stöbe.

In the conflicts in Iraq and Libya, ambulances and medical personnel have been specifically targeted by attacks. "But what is certainly different in Syria is that these attacks have been openly conducted and over a constant period of time," Dörner said.

Injured civilians remain trapped

By its own account, the organization is only operating in areas controlled by the rebels because the Syrian regime has denied access to areas elsewhere. Doctors Without Borders, for instance, has not been allowed to provide relief in Qusayr, where fighting was particularly fierce and hundreds of injured civilians were trapped.

"We have no access," Stöbe said, adding, however, that the organization is providing medical supplies to organized networks of Syrian doctors and hospitals in areas controlled by the regime. He has called on the German government to use its influence to ensure that the Syrian government allows more independent humanitarian aid.

Tanks in Qusair REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
The Assad regime continues to block access to Doctors Without BordersImage: reuters

Call for donations

As for the possible use of chemical weapons that the United Nations has accused the Assad regime of using, Stöbe said no patients affected by such weapons have been delivered to the clinics operated by Doctors Without Borders.

The organization expects to be involved in a long conflict. In the coming months and years, Syrians will need help, said Stöbe, who, in the same breath, called for greater donations. The organization, he said, needs 31 million euros for Syrian aid alone this year – and possibly more.

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