Last week, Syrian or Russian jets bombed Al Quds hospital, in the eastern part of the divided city of Aleppo. At least 50 people lost their lives, and some 80 more were injured.
Among those killed in the attack was my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Muhammad Wassim Mo’az, a kind man who cared deeply for his patients and his community. He slept in the hospital in case there was an emergency and he had to rush to treat babies and children. He was the last pediatrician in Aleppo.
Another friend, Dr. Mohammed Ahmad, was also killed in the airstrikes. Dr. Ahmad was beloved by colleagues and Aleppo residents. He used to volunteer with children, teaching them how to prevent dental disease during wartime. He was one of the 10 dentists remaining in eastern Aleppo.
Dr. Wassim and Dr. Ahmad join hundreds of my Syrian colleagues who have been killed during the last five years of civil war. Physicians for Human Rights has counted at least 730 murdered medical professionals. Deliberate attacks on hospitals and medical workers have become the norm. Just one day after the bombing of Al Quds hospital, a primary care center that treated more than 2,000 people a month was destroyed by another airstrike. In the last week, schools, clinics and mosques have been deliberately bombed, too.
As one of the few remaining doctors in Syria, I have watched the “cessation of hostilities” that was agreed on in February crumble. Imperfect though it was, it offered Syrian civilians a brief respite from five years of violence. People had begun to recover during the truce, to get their lives back. But we are now seeing a level of destruction that will leave an already battered city in ruins.
It is hard to describe what it is like to live in Aleppo, waiting for death. Some people even pray for its swift arrival to take them away from this burning city. The bombardment has reached such ferocity that even the stones are catching fire. This week I helped bury a man whose body was so charred that no one could identify him.
Planes overhead vie to be the next to strike. Their targets are not fighters, but civilians — mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters whose luck has run out. That is what we live on now, luck. Everyone is terrified and we feel abandoned and alone.
Doctors and nurses are trying our best to put on a brave face for our patients. We know that for the community we serve we represent a last hope, the final defenders of life in this city. But we are also among the fallen. We have all lost medical brothers and sisters to barrel bombs and missile strikes, but we keep on working through the night. We have seen neighbors and friends die in front of us. We are exhausted, and there are not many of us left, but we continue our 20-hour shifts. What is most heartbreaking is when we have to choose which patients to save because there aren’t enough doctors to treat everyone. Our hospitals, though they are the targets of bombs, still overflow with the sick and injured.
What was once the universal sanctity of medical neutrality has been eviscerated. This war has set fire to what were long-held agreements on human rights, humanitarian principles and humanitarian law.
We are running out of coffins to bury our friends, family and colleagues. At some point the shelling will kill everything and there will be no life left in Aleppo. Trapped, people are losing any sense of hope. Our time is running out, and the need for action is urgent.
Just a few months ago, Russia, the United States and other global leaders made what they said was a firm commitment to a truce. They are now failing to meet that commitment, and Aleppo’s women, children and elderly are paying the greatest price. Syrian government and Russian airstrikes are aiming at the places where civilians gather most, as well as the roads allowing humanitarian assistance into eastern Aleppo. The cessation of hostilities was no cure-all, but its revitalization could end this rolling massacre in Aleppo and prevent the siege that we all fear is coming.
The United States should pressure the Syrian government and Russia to immediately halt airstrikes on civilian areas and hospitals and remove their aircraft from the area, which strike fear in the hearts of Aleppo’s children every day. Routes into the city must remain open so that food and fuel for ambulances and hospitals can reach us. We cannot endure a siege.
The United States and Russia say they are committed to the cessation of hostilities and that it extends to Aleppo. But we need more than hollow statements. We need them to push their allies to respect international humanitarian and human rights law. Hospitals cannot be targets.
Everyone should be outraged by these systematic war crimes and do whatever they can to make them stop. The destruction of Aleppo is happening under the world’s watch. We pray for it to stop. For Aleppo, for our patients and for ourselves.
Osama Abo El Ezz, a general surgeon, is the Aleppo coordinator for the Syrian American Medical Society.