Under bombs, Syria rescuers forced to save their own

Forty-five-year-old Samir Salim (L), who along with his three brothers are members of the White Helmets rescue forces, mourns as he looks at a picture that he took when he tried to rescue the body of his mother from under the rubble of his home in the town of Medeira in Syria's rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area on February 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 14 February 2018
0

Under bombs, Syria rescuers forced to save their own

MEDEIRA, Syria: For years, Samir Salim and his three brothers rescued neighbors and relatives pinned underground after bombardment on Syria’s rebel-held Eastern Ghouta. But last week, they could not save their own mother.
Crouched atop the rubble of their home in the town of Medeira, 45-year-old Salim pinches hot tears out of his eyes with dusty, blistered hands.
“It was a very difficult position to be in. It hurts to think that she was a mother of four rescue workers, and none of us could save her,” he tells AFP.
“My mother was so proud of us, and of our work.”
Every day since 2013, Salim and his siblings have chased air strikes on Eastern Ghouta as part of the White Helmets rescue force.
They spend hours searching for and extracting residents of the rebel enclave near Damascus from under blocks of rubble — dead or alive.
But last Thursday was different.
Among the dozens of victims of Syrian government strikes that day was Salim’s 80-year-old mother.
Returning to the pile of cinderblocks and concrete that was once their home, Salim rewatches the shaky video footage he captured that day.
In it, his mother appears in a black headscarf, her bloodied and motionless body pressed underneath a collapsed wall. Salim is crying.
“I save people, mum, but I can’t save you. What do I do, mum? May your soul rest in peace.”
Eastern Ghouta, the last rebel bastion on the capital’s doorstep, is home to around 400,000 besieged Syrians.
Last week, Syrian warplanes and artillery conducted an intense five-day campaign there that left around 250 civilians dead and triple that number wounded.
Rescue workers were overwhelmed, rushing from the site of one air strike to another with little equipment and dwindling fuel supplies.
Salim and his unit were en route to a collapsed building in Mesraba, a nearby town, when they heard another air strike hit Medeira.
“I got a very strange feeling. My heart was telling me: something awful just happened in your home,” Salim recalls, his voice cracking.
One team went on to Mesraba, but Salim joined those heading to his hometown, arriving to clouds of dust.
“I stopped in my tracks, trying to understand what was going on. That’s when I realized the strike had hit my own house,” he says.
“I didn’t expect to find anyone alive.”
Still, he got to work. He rescued his father, 23-day-old nephew Samer, and sister-in-law before reaching his mother’s body.
Breathlessly, Salim called into his walkie-talkie for colleagues to bring rescue equipment to extract her.
“I asked for back-up but my colleagues were a bit late. I don’t blame them, because of the hysterical bombing campaign on the area,” he explains.
Salim had rescued his father from the aftermath of an air strike two years ago, but his mother’s death was a different sort of tragedy.
“I didn’t panic then the way I did this time. Maybe it’s because a mother’s affection is different.”
Fellow rescuer Saeed Al-Masri says his toughest mission ended differently: he rescued his three-month-old son Yehya after bombardment hit their home in Saqba last week.
“The houses were flattened. My cousin was killed. My house was hit,” he tells AFP.
“I had a feeling my son and wife were dead.”
His wife’s shrieking stirred him out of his stupor. He rushed to her, found his bloodied infant and ran him to the hospital.
The moment was captured in a photograph of Masri clutching his bleeding son to his chest. He is now home with the blue-eyed baby, who sports a bandage underneath his left eye.
Bombing raids on Eastern Ghouta have even put medics on operating tables, instead of standing over them.
Nurse Malek Abu Jaber, 20, was heading home for a break from the makeshift clinic in Jisreen last week when an air strike hit.
“Suddenly, I felt myself being thrown back by something hot. I didn’t know what hit me until I saw blood streaming down from my stomach,” he tells AFP.
He returned to the clinic, this time as a patient. Hours earlier, he had been complaining about his dislike for abdominal surgeries because of the potential complications.
“I felt like the wounded people that come in every day. I felt the tingling of the needle, the wound being stitched up, the gauze, the real suffering of wounded people,” Abu Jaber says.
He lies on a hospital bed while a colleague changes the bandage on his stomach, surrounded by children wounded in recent fire.
Despite his injury, the young medic insists on helping his beleaguered colleagues with a smile.
“We can’t catch our breath. The wounded come day and night, and the pressure on us is massive,” he says.
“Despite all that, we’re facing these air strikes as a matter of duty.”


Egypt finalizing details of long-term Hamas-Israel truce

Updated 16 August 2018
0

Egypt finalizing details of long-term Hamas-Israel truce

  • Cairo has brokered an interim truce that has allowed commercial goods into Gaza ahead of the Muslim Eid Al-Adha
  • “We are putting the final touches to the terms of the truce that will be signed by all sides..." the source said

CAIRO: Egypt is finalizing details of a long-term truce deal between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, an Egyptian security source said on Thursday, amid easing tensions on the border of the enclave where some two million Palestinians live.
Cairo has brokered an interim truce that has allowed commercial goods into Gaza ahead of the Muslim Eid Al-Adha feast which starts next week.
“We are putting the final touches to the terms of the truce that will be signed by all sides, and we expect to announce the terms next week if Fatah helps us to do so,” the source said, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s mainstream party which dominates the occupied West Bank.
Officials from Fatah have not joined those of Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, and other Palestinian factions for the talks in Cairo on the long-term truce.
But Fatah’s backing is crucial for any deal as the party retains a large presence in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and has overall control in areas under Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank.
“The period of calm will be for one year, during which contacts will be held to extend it for another four years,” the source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A long-term truce could pave the way for talks on other issues, including the easing of a blockade that has crippled Gaza’s economy and allowing a possible swap of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers.
The source said Egyptian intelligence chief, Abbas Kamel, was expected to meet Abbas in Ramallah after similar talks in Israel, and a deal could be announced by next week. An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Kamel had met with Netanyahu in Israel this week, but gave no details.
A Palestinian source in Ramallah said Kamel has left without seeing Abbas, who had been preoccupied with a Palestinian leadership conference. But the source said Abbas had informed Egypt that Fatah representatives would join the Cairo talks later this week or next week.
Apart from the opening of its Kerem Shalom commercial crossing into Gaza, Israel also expanded the enclave’s fishing zone, in waters under Israeli naval blockade, from three to nine nautical miles off the southern coast and to six nautical miles in the north, according to the head of Gaza’s fishermen’s union.
The Egyptian security source said the extended truce would also include opening a sea lane from Gaza to Cyprus under Israeli supervision.
A Palestinian official in Gaza familiar with the talks said Palestinian factions were demanding a “total lifting of the blockade on Gaza, opening all crossings with Israel and Egypt and a water corridor.”
Israel says its blockade is a self-defense measure against Hamas, a group that has called for its destruction.
Israel’s security cabinet, a forum of senior ministers headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, discussed the Gaza situation on Wednesday and an Israeli “diplomatic official” said Hamas would have to prove its commitment to the truce.
As well as wanting calm along the border, Israel has said Hamas must return the remains of two soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war and release two civilians whose fate is unknown. It says they are being held by Hamas in Gaza.
“That’s the only way,” Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said on Thursday when asked if a broad arrangement depended on the return of the soldiers’ bodies.
“Nothing will be done to enable (Gaza’s) significant rehabilitation and the improvement of infrastructure and ports and other such fantasies, unless they release the bodies and the two Israeli captives,” he told Israel radio.
The Egyptian security source said the long-term truce would also envisage Israel freeing hundreds of detained Palestinians in a prisoner swap.
However, the Palestinian official denied any talks were taking place on a swap, saying Hamas opposed mixing the issues.
Egypt has brokered a Palestinian reconciliation agreement that provides for Hamas to cede control of Gaza to Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. A dispute over power-sharing has hindered implementation of the deal, but the Egyptian source said Cairo was still seeking progress on the issue.