‘Boy in ambulance’ becomes face of Aleppo strikes

Silent and in shock, five-year-old rescued child Omran sits in an ambulance - all alone - in the aftermath of an airstrike

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Syrian opposition activists have released haunting footage showing a young boy rescued from the rubble in the aftermath of a devastating airstrike in Aleppo.

The image of the stunned and weary looking boy, sitting in an orange chair inside an ambulance covered in dust and with blood on his face, encapsulates the horrors inflicted on the conflicted northern city and is being widely shared on social media.

Mahmoud Abu Sheikh, a media photojournalist with Aleppo’s Media Office, who was at the scene and took the photo of the little boy told Al Arabiya’s sister channel al Hadath that last night’s shelling was ‘different’.

He said, it was difficult for the civil defense team to pull out the family from under the rubble, as the building was almost completely flattened, with only a few parts still standing.

Mahmoud said they got to the scene minutes after the airstrikes, and saved the 4-year-old first, after his 6 and 7-year-old siblings, his 11-year-old sister, and then proceeded to pull the father from the debris.

The photojournalist said it took fifteen minutes to pull the mother from under the demolished concrete building, and that her feet were seriously injured.

He said within an hour the building fell to the ground.

Mahmoud said Omran was shocked, and “expressed his feelings through silence”, as he looked around for his siblings. He said as soon as he saw his siblings, he seemed less tense.

“When the boy stroked his bleeding face, and stared into his hand, I cried. The scene was so painful, although we see this all the time,” he said.

Mahmoud said he rushed the ambulance to take Omran for treatment, fearing he might have serious injuries, but was relieved to discover he had only suffered minor head injuries.

Doctors in Aleppo on Thursday identified the boy as 5-year-old Omran. Osama Abu al-Ezz confirmed he was brought to the hospital known as “M10” Wednesday night following an airstrike on the rebel-held district of Qaterji with head wounds, but no brain injury, and was later discharged.

Doctors in Aleppo use code names for hospitals, which they say have been systematically targeted by government airstrikes. Abu al-Ezz said they do that “because we are afraid security forces will infiltrate their medical network and target ambulances as they transfer patients from one hospital to another.”

In the video posted late Wednesday by the Aleppo Media Center, a man is seen plucking the boy away from a chaotic nighttime scene and carrying him inside the ambulance, looking dazed and flat-eyed.

The boy then runs his hand over his blood-covered face, looks at his hands and wipes them on the ambulance chair.

Opposition activists said there were eight casualties overall from the air strike on Qaterji, among them five children.

According to UNICEF’s latest figures there are 6 million children inside the country who are impacted by the war. Additionally there are a further 2.2 million children living as refugees in neighboring countries – that’s more than 8 million children – 80% of Syria’s population of children and young people aged under-18s.

“Children are going through horrific experiences,” Juliette Touma UNICEF spokeswoman in the Middle East told Al Arabiya English.

“They are seeing simply horrible things in Syria. This is not a new thing, this has sadly been happening for the past five-and-a-half years. This photo is quite horrific and it should really shake the very compass of the world.” She said that Omran was not the only child going through these experiences.

“What we need to remember is that there are millions of children inside the country who are going through the violence, living the violence every single day. It’s just another reminder that Syria is a country that is not safe for children and nowhere inside Syria is safe for children. It is also a reminder to the world why it is absolutely that this war once and for all comes to an end, for the sake of this child and many millions of others around the country who are going through things that no human being should see ever.”

She said inside Syria there were millions of children in a state of shock who had become ‘numb to the violence’ that they were ‘witnessing everyday’.

“Schools continue to be bombed, hospital’s clinics, ambulances – water networks are being bombed – other infrastructures like electricity, anything that provides civilians with access to basic services – like health – like education – Is being severely damaged. Is coming under attack from this violence,” she added.

“It’s no secret that wars and conflicts have long term damage on children,” Touma added . “Their sense of shock is something that stays with the child for the longer term. This is why it is absolutely vital that why when you have these children who have witnessed that kind of experience - which is violent - that you give the child the support that they need. And that is why it is absolutely important that the children get psychological support and that they feel safe again. “

Common symptoms of children suffering the level of shock cry a lot, sometimes lose the ability to walk or talk. Some are unable to sleep, suffer nightmares and bed wetting.

And if these symptoms are not treated early on, she added, they can lead to further complications later in life such as depression.

The image of Omran in the orange chair is reminiscent of the image of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian boy whose body was found on a beach in Turkey and came to encapsulate the horrific toll of Europe’s migrant crisis.

Mahmoud Abu Sheikh said he wished all pictures being taken in Syria could spread worldwide so people could see what the Syrians are going through, not only with the airstrikes, but also with no electricity, and water.

He said he worries about the mental health of the children, since a child who runs out to play for five minutes hears airstrikes and runs back home.

“The kid wants go out and play just for two minutes and can’t, they know that even at home they’re prone to being bombed,” he said.

(With AP)

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