As It Happens

Hospital in Syrian city of Idlib stretched thin as airstrikes pummel rebel-held enclaves

In the past 10 days, a dozen medical centres have been put out of service in Syria's last rebel-held enclave. Dr. Mohamad Abrash says his hospital in Idlib is helping to pick up the slack, but they're stretched too thin.

12 medical centres have been incapacitated, according to Syrian American Medical Society

Members of the Syrian Civil Defense group, known as the White Helmets, carry a victim after a deadly airstrike on Tuesday hit a market killing several people in the village of Ras el-Ain, in the northwestern province of Idlib, Syria. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)


Dr. Mohamad Abrash says he and other surgeons at the Idlib Central Hospital are being stretched too thin as government forces intensified their bombardment of rebel-held towns and villages in northwest Syria.

"All the civilians, injured people [are] coming to us, so that our hospital, all the time, is busy. And we are operating, actually, all the time, starting morning till evening," he told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"We are a few doctors. We cannot work forever."

The new wave of violence that began on April 30 is the worst since September, when Russia and Turkey brokered a cease-fire that averted a government offensive on Idlib province, the last major rebel stronghold in Syria. 

The new wave of violence has resulted in hundreds of civilian dead and injured and over 150,000 newly displaced persons, according to the United Nations.

A dozen medical centres have been incapacitated as well, the Syrian American Medical Society said Monday in a statement.

Opposition activists say government forces have intensified their bombardment of rebel-held towns and villages in northwestern Syria striking a market where 4 people were killed. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Idlib Central Hospital has been much busier in the interim, treating many serious injuries related to the attacks.

Abrash said that on Tuesday alone, he had already saved three lives over six continuous hours in the operating room.

"One spleen injury, one liver injury, and one colonic injury," he said, adding that they were all caused by shrapnel.

Abrash has been working six days a week, leaving one day to see his family who are currently staying in Turkey. Other family members of his, including brothers and sisters, are still living in Syria.

He believes the destruction of hospitals and other key infrastructure is part of the regime's plan to force as many people out of Syria.

"They are pushing them to go to Europe or to go to America, or go to any place they will accept these refugees," he said.

Smoke rises from a Syrian government airstrike in Hobeit village, near Idlib, on Sept. 9, 2018. The White Helmets and a conflict monitoring group said Sunday that government and Russian forces have resumed their bombing of the opposition's last stretch of territory in the country, killing an infant girl and damaging a hospital. (Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets/Associated Press)

As he works on saving as many lives as possible, Abrash can hear the bombs striking locations outside the city. He likened the sound of the bombs to an earthquake.

"Every five minutes, or less than five minutes, we are feeling the ground shaking under our feet," he said.

"They will not give any warning. Suddenly you will feel that the plane over you and the missile is coming down."

An injured person is carried on stretcher into an ambulance after an airstrike by government forces in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib on Feb. 26. (Reuters)

Opposition-linked first responders, the White Helmets, said warplanes bombed a market in the village of Ras el-Ain on Tuesday morning — killing five people, including three children, and wounding 20 more. 

The White Helmets also said that three other people were killed in the villages of Maar Tamater and Bara.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, reported airstrikes and shelling on Idlib and northern rebel-held parts of Hama province. It said 13 civilians were killed on Tuesday alone.

The civil war is now in its ninth year and terror still rains down from the sky in the form of airstrikes and gun battles. Abrash expressed frustration at the international community's inability to stem the violence.

"The United Nations is looking to us like numbers only. They will count how many people died, how many hospitals [are] destroyed. And they will do nothing, really," he said.

"I hope that you will take our sounds, and take our suffering, and give it to the people there in America or in Europe or Canada or somewhere, and help us to do something," he told Off, his voice trailing from weariness.

"But something urgent. Not something slowly."

Written by Jonathan Ore with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Mohamad Abrash. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong.


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