Helping the wounded in Syria becomes a dangerous game

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Syrian medics are facing an uphill struggle to attend to the mounting casualties of the country’s civil conflict, citing a lack of supplies and fear of security force raids.

“What we need most right now are empty blood bags, oxygen masks and tetanus shots — and also a heart defibrillator,” a medical volunteer, who had been tallying packages of antibiotics soon to be channeled out to protest strongholds, told The Los Angeles Times this week.

A makeshift medical system has been developed during the past year’s brutal regime crackdown on anti-government protests which has resulted in 7,500 deaths since March 2011, according to United Nations figures.

“Clandestine field clinics, often set up in private homes, have evolved into an underground care network that has been celebrated in media accounts from the battle-scarred city of Homs and elsewhere,” the LA Times reported.

Wounded opposition demonstrators and rebels are steering clear of hospitals and clinics because of the risk of torture there.

A video leaked from a military hospital in Homs last week revealed horrific images of patients who had been tortured by medical staff.

The footage showed wounded patients blindfolded and shackled to their beds with marks of torture on their bodies. Some instruments of torture, including a rubber whip and electrical cable, appear on a table in one of the hospital wards.

Medic volunteers targeted

The Syrian medics who have set up field hospitals across the most dangerous parts of the country to help the wounded, face being targeted by regime forces.

“The trick is to move the supplies quickly so no evidence remains if security forces raid the premises,” the medical volunteer said, declining to be named for security reasons.

“The regime is actually targeting those who are trying to send help,” Nadja, a woman in her 20s who is involved in relief efforts, told the LA Times.

“All these people are dying, and I am just here trying to send help,” Nadja also said, adding that her close friend was recently arrested.

“The ones who are providing aid are considered a million times more dangerous” than the rebels, an opposition activist from the rebel bastion of Homs told the newspaper. “From the regime’s perspective, they are extending the ‘terrorists’’ lives.”

And the newspaper highlighted more fears over the opposition’s secret clinics, stating that the medics “could not operate without an illicit supply chain funneling medicine and other medical necessities to the protest hubs.”

Last month, Paul Conroy, a wounded British war photographer, was carried out of Homs on a stretcher in a nerve-racking 26-hour operation that cost the lives of 13 Syrian medical volunteers.

Also in February, seven Syrian volunteers attempting to take medical aid and equipment into Homs’ besieged Baba Amro district were found dead ─ “executed” ─ and their supplies, including a respirator, were missing or strewn along the road near their bodies, the nongovernmental group Avaaz reported.

Avaaz blamed the Syrian military for the killings, but there has been no response from Syrian officials.

“In the authorities’ view, the medical activists are collaborators in sedition against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. They are enabling, and prolonging, the armed rebellion,” the LA Times stated.

Renewed fears over the safety of medical workers and the torture of wounded civilians has supported reports by an independent international commission of inquiry (is this the UN inquiry that Valerie Amos was on or the Arab League initiative?) into the brutal repression in Syria that security and military forces have committed crimes against humanity against civilians, including acts of murder, torture, rape and imprisonment.

(Written by Eman El-shenawi)