Kafranbel hospital has been subjected to several attacks by warplanes and helicopters, this one took place on 20/4/2015 when the hospital was bombed and three people were killed as a result of the air strike. Photo supplied by The Orient.
‘We have reconstructed the damage. Every month, we spend more than one hundred thousand dollars reconstructing our hospitals and now at this point, now we are making a very big hole under the ground and we will transfer the hospital from up to down. I can give you the video for this. You will see it is very big, like a cage and now we are equipping it and constructing it to transfer the hospital from above ground to below the ground. What can we do? We must work. There are a lot of people suffering and this hospital is a very big in Kafranbel because it has 70 beds. We have the Eliza centre with more than six suites of medical instruments [dialysis, CT scan, etcetera]. The Eliza is working 24/7 and there is an outpatient clinic [for routine assessments and follow-up]. We have more than 1 million people in this area, refugees of course, internal refugees. They need medical help and support.’
‘To be clear, these are not field hospitals; these are large surgical hospitals. Most of our patients are wounded civilians, because every month, every week they fire at villages around Jabal Al-Zawiyah and in and around Kafranbel, so most of the wounded people want to come to this hospital. We are helping and supporting, not only wounded in the field but also chronic disease. It has an ICU, a CCU, a dialysis centre, outpatient clinic, dental clinics, obstetrics and gynaecology. It is a very big hospital. We have a paediatric department for new-borns. More than three babies were killed inside the incubator when they attacked our hospital. These new-born babies were in the incubator and when they fired at the hospital the generator stopped and these babies died. We have the photograph of it to [evidence this].’
‘We have an extensive ambulance system with about 24 ambulance cars. Every month we lose more than two or three cars to regime rocket attacks; not only our cars, our ambulances as well. Any ambulance will be targeted by the regime. So we paint them with a dark colour, we don’t put any identifying marks, no logo on the car because they will attack it. We lost more than 5 paramedics and one doctor in the ambulance service. One of them was in Aleppo city when we were trying to help wounded people on the outskirts of Aleppo; the others were targeted and attacked in the middle of Syria. We have all the names of those who were killed.’
‘Over the period of this UN report [the one I have asked Dr Martini to respond to] most of our hospitals were [deliberately] attacked by the regime. On the last occasion they sent a car bomb and parked it outside our first hospital in Atmah. This was in March 2014. That car bomb exploded at about 10.00 or 11.00 in the morning when the outpatient clinics were working and a lot of children were coming to our clinics. There were more than 17 casualties between doctors, paramedics, nurses and the civilian people who were coming to our outpatient clinic. The hospital was completely destroyed. All our warehouses were destroyed. They were full of paramedics and medical equipment and instruments, all destroyed and 17 civilian people were killed.‘
‘What does this mean? If the regime did that, and I am sure that it was the regime because a car bomb is always the mark of the regime. ISIS come with the car, drive it into the hospital and blow it up, it is a suicide attack. But the regime parks it outside and leaves, then they blow it up by remote control. That is their signature. And at that time there was no ISIS in this area. I know the way of the regime; they did this. The regime did this several times inside Syria.’
‘It is not only the Orient Hospitals that are attacked. Less than one month ago [3/10/15] the Russian air force attacked Al-Burnas hospital, which is for the Doctors Without Borders and they destroyed the hospital on the outskirts of Latakia. That means the regime and Russia are the same, attacking medical field and civilian components. Why? I don’t know. There are no terrorist people inside the area served by these hospitals. They are public hospitals for civilians. We don’t have ISIS in our region and Jabhat Al-Nusra has its own hospitals so they don’t need to bring wounded agents for our hospital. Most of the people who come are civilians suffering the effects of regime and Russian airstrikes. So why are they attacking the hospitals?’
RETALIATION AFTER THE LIBERATION OF IDLEB CITY
‘On the second day, after the regime left Idleb city (29/03/2015), we entered Idleb city as a medical team. All of our doctors, not only the Orient ones, the Healthcare Ministry, which is part of the opposition entered inside Idleb city. We went to the National Hospital and we went to the Red Crescent Hospital. On the second day they fired two missiles at us. One was aimed at the National Hospital and one at the Red Crescent. After two days we went to Carlton Hotel and we turned it into a hospital. We transferred equipment and began to work. We needed to work because every day there was more than one hundred attacks from the air on Idleb city. The second day they targeted an attack on this Carlton Hotel. This is because the regime has a lot of people inside Syria who are informing for them - they transfer from area to area [spying]. So they attacked this hotel-come-hospital and we thank God we were working in the basement.’
‘Yes, they know where we are going. They follow us through people acting as intelligence agents inside Syria, collaborating with the regime, inside Idleb city. So that means this regime when they fired initially at two very big hospitals in the city, they did not want any of the people to survive. They wanted them to die. Whether they were civilian or opposition military or anybody, they wanted them all to die.
‘When you block the water supply, you want all people to die of thirst. When you come to the hospital and destroy it and then shoot the people. That means you want these people to die not to survive. You don’t want them to find any hospital to help and support them. Let them escape across the border. That is what the regime wants.’
THE ATTACK ON IDLEB CITY OVER THE WEEKEND
‘It was a very, very, very bad case because most of my friends inside Syria are in Idleb city. They are civilians and they were killed. I can show you some of them. One of them was just a Ping-Pong player who umpired the rules of the game. He is a civilian and a very innocent man. Another one’s job was distributing books to students. He was killed inside this building [mobile phone image]. He kept the books for students and he was killed inside this building, in the library. The building that was shot at was the library. And this guy is another one killed. He is an engineer; he was a very, very, very smart man and he was a civilian helping and supporting people inside Idleb city. They killed him. Why have these people been killed? There were 55 killed and another 150 wounded people. I have the names if you want them. We have a list of 122 wounded people who came to the hospitals and 55 killed, why? Why are they killing these people? These people are civilians. They are attacking civilian areas, I don’t know, why, I don’t know. You see the buildings how they were attacked [images on mobile phone]’
‘Nobody believes that, nobody believes that. The world does not know what happened. They must inspect and see and declare but nobody is declaring. It is just the way the media tells the story that is believed. And most of the governments around the world are [here Dr Martini swipes the air with his hand to gesture the world brushing off the plight of the Syrian people].’
THE REGIME'S RATIONALE FOR TARGETTING DOCTORS AND HEALTHCARE STAFF AND THIS DOCTOR’S RESPONSE
Given this catalogue of targeting I wonder whether the regime was seeing the Orient project as a political one associated with the Free Syrian Army and the Revolution. Or is it seeing you as medical practitioners who are prepared to treat people on the basis of need?
‘They told us before we left Syria that we must not try to heal people because ‘these people are criminals.’ I told this inspection man who was talking with me inside Syria that these people were civilians, ‘I saw them.’ ‘They were demonstrating without a weapon and some of your soldiers shot them. I have seen them and I have a photo of that.’ ‘We are healing and treating civilian people.’
Surgery in the Ophthalmology Department of Orient for Human Relief, Reyhanli
‘He told me: ‘these people are terrorists and we will kill them and if we wanted you to heal them we would not shoot them.’ ‘We shot them to die, not to heal, not to survive.’ I told him, ‘I am a doctor, I don’t assess any patient that comes to see me or wounded man to my clinic or Red Crescent Hospital and ask them whether they are with the regime or the opposition, against regime. He is a human being, I don’t ask him if he is a Muslim or Christian or Allawi or etc.’ ‘I am a doctor and he is a human. This is my job, if you don’t want me to help them survive and heal them, take my lesson; close this hospital and take me to the gaol.’ Then I was arrested and put in prison for about three or four days. They let me sign papers, I don’t know what they said, I didn’t read them. I only knew I must sign them or they would torture me. And then I got out of Syria. When I was leaving, he cautioned me: ’You signed that document saying you will not accept any wounded patient.’ I told him: ‘I sign but you know how I sign, and I will, I will do’ [treat wounded people]. He told me: ‘Take care of yourself and take care of your family.’ Then I got my family out of Syria while I stayed for about 6 months working inside Syria and after that I fled outside as well.’
EXECUTION OF DOCTORS BY THE SYRIAN REGIME
Do you have evidence of the regime actually directly executing medical personnel, healthcare personnel?
‘Of course one of our doctors, he was one of our friends. We trained together at al-Kindi Hospital in Aleppo. [Dr Mohammed Nour Maktabi] He was working in Aleppo as a consultant to several hospitals when they arrested him. He was an internal medicine specialist helping us support the people. They [the regime] arrested him at his clinic [in Seif al-Dawiah, 18 June 2012] and after five months, they found him in the hospital [Aleppo Academic Hospital], he was killed and his body was found in the [mortuary] fridge. He had been tortured; they have a prison, a gaol inside the hospital. His brother, Ammar works here in the dental laboratory. Let him talk and tell you about Dr Mohammed Nour, he is downstairs in the dental laboratory.’ [Ref: special report on the medical conditions in Aleppo June 2014, VDCS]
Incredulous, I asked for clarification: ‘they have a prison gaol inside the hospital?’
‘Of course, most hospitals in the Syrian Arab Republic under regime control have a gaol and that’s a prison, yes. Al-Kindi hospital was also under the control of the regime until it was liberated [22/12/13]. [It was used as a military barracks from Nov 2012. Since 16/08/14 it returned to being under regime control and is again a military barracks not a hospital].’
PETITIONING THE UN IN GENEVA
‘On 11 Dec 2015 I went with most of the doctors who were working in the medical field to United Nations (UN) in Geneva. We stood in front of the UN with our white coats and we told them to stop the attacks on the medical teams. Every day there are air strikes from all sides in this conflict. But nobody feels with us.’
I can’t understand because you are saying that all these incidents are being reported. But even the violations to the ‘Doctors Without Borders’ hospital hasn’t been acknowledged as an atrocity and your cries for help are falling on deaf ears.
‘But nobody cares about that. We registered all these incidents, not only our hospitals, and we sent a report to the Physician for Human Rights organisation in New York. I give it to them by my hand and I discuss what happened there but I didn’t see anything happen. I think they just put it in a draw and they closed it. Then after 20 years what will we do with this report? After twenty years there will not be any Syrian people left inside Syria. Most of them will be killed or emigrated. Nobody hear us.’
What do you need from the international community? What do you need now?
‘What I need from International community is to prevent this criminal regime and Russia when they give instructions to shoot at medical facilities. ISIS shoots terrorists and radicals opposed to them not medical teams. We give a location to everyone about our medical facilities. We give the location and it is known where they are by the international sector, all of them know where our medical components are.’
SUPPORT FROM SYRIAN DOCTORS IN EXILE
You are well supported by Syrian doctors who have left Syria. What about the international medical establishments? Is there anything like the British Medical Association backing what you say, I know there was an article in the BMJ
‘At the beginning of the revolution when we established the Orient for Human Relief in Reyhanli there were a lot of doctors from outside Turkey and Syria who came here and went to Atmah Hospital just across the border. They helped and supported us and conducted professional operations and surgery. Then after 2013 there was about 6 months when ISIS started to control that area. Then nobody went inside Syria and so we developed the hospital facilities here in Reyhanli.’