Year after Daesh lost Syria’s Raqqa, holdout hospital awaits recovery

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Hospital equipment placed in the courtyard of the National Hospital building in the northern Syria city of Raqqa, which was the final bastion of Daesh fighters. (AFP/Delil Souleiman)
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A member of the first response team inspects leftover medical equipment in a room in the National Hospital, which was the final bastion of Daesh fighters, in the northern Syria city of Raqqa. (AFP/Delil Souleiman)
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A National Hospital building in the northern Syria city of Raqqa, which was the final bastion of Daesh fighters. (AFP/Delil souleiman)
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A member of the first response team walks inside a room in the National Hospital, which was the final bastion of Daesh fighters, in the northern Syria city of Raqqa. (AFP/Delil Souleiman)
Updated 15 October 2018
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Year after Daesh lost Syria’s Raqqa, holdout hospital awaits recovery

  • The bullet-riddled complex looms large among the sea of destroyed buildings in the northern city
  • Inside, hospital rooms are charred black from fires after air strikes

RAQA, Syria: Shattered ultrasound machines and prosthetic limbs litter the hallways of Raqqa’s main hospital, still gutted a year after Daesh made its infamous last stand in its Syrian heartland.
The bullet-riddled complex looms large among the sea of destroyed buildings in the northern city, once the de facto Syrian capital of Daesh’s ill-fated “caliphate.”
On October 17 last year, US-backed forces overran the city’s final two militant holdouts — the National Hospital and nearby stadium — sealing the end of Daesh’s bloody three-year reign over Raqqa.
But a year later, as other parts of the city are being slowly rebuilt, the massive hospital remains in ruins, almost haunted.
The road leading up to the entrance has been cleared of the burned corpses lying there last October, but twisted car wrecks still make for an uncomfortable welcome.
Torn-up gurneys, filthy sky-blue hospital sheets and rusted gas canisters have been dumped in the courtyard.
Bullet-riddled doors are graffitied with the phrase “CLEAR, November 9, 2017,” apparently marking the day those rooms were checked for mines or lingering militants.
Inside, hospital rooms are charred black from fires after air strikes.
Paint is peeling off the ceiling and the walls are lined with sand bags piled by Daesh fighters defending their final bastion.
Making his way slowly through the abandoned medical ward was Mohammad Hussein, 37, in navy trousers and a striped shirt.
Hussein is now a member of the health commission of Raqqa Civil Council (RCC), the body governing the city since Daesh’s ouster, but he was once a nurse in the hospital.
“You don’t feel like you’re walking into a hospital. You feel like you’re walking into a mound of rubble,” he muttered.
The Raqqa native began working in the hospital in 2003 at the age of 22, and stayed on when Daesh captured the city 11 years later.
Hussein recalls Daesh members shoring up the hospital’s defenses last year, digging tunnels and setting up blast walls as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) closed in.
“They stockpiled medical supplies in huge amounts — serums, blood, water, power generators,” he said.
After days of besieging the hospital and stadium, the SDF made a successful, lightning-fast push for both.
Since then, tens of thousands of people have returned to Raqqa, but life is still dangerous in the city.
Daesh planted a sea of mines across the city that have maimed and killed returning residents, and guerrilla-style attacks against SDF positions indicate militant sleeper cells remain a threat.
“No one lost as much as Raqqa’s people when it comes to the destruction of this hospital, which used to serve hundreds of people on a daily basis,” said Hussein.
Khaled Abbud Al-Hassan was one of them.
One day last year, as artillery and air strikes pounded areas near his home, a piece of shrapnel tore into his building.
“It killed my four-year-old daughter and cut my hand, so I went to get treated at the hospital,” said Hassan, 60.
Inside were doctors from Azerbaijan, he recalled. Most of the Syrian staff was from Aleppo, west of Raqqa.
“They treated each other and us as well. I was there for about a week before the hospital was bombed and they told us to get out,” Hassan said.
After a recent visit to Raqqa, Amnesty International said the level of destruction was “shocking,” with schools, homes, and medical infrastructure still ravaged.
It has slammed the US-led coalition’s bombing of the city and said it should help rebuild Raqqa.
The coalition has removed rubble from main streets and demined some areas, but a rehabilitation of the hospital has still not been sponsored, said RCC co-chair Laila Mustafa.
“It needs huge funds to be restored, more than three billion Syrian pounds (almost $6 million). This excludes medical equipment, which would be high-quality and exorbitantly expensive,” Mustafa said.
She told AFP that the RCC was in talks with a foreign backer over funds to partially rehabilitate one hospital ward.
The stadium, whose underground locker rooms Daesh had transformed into a prison, has fared better.
The field was partly restored after the SDF’s takeover, hosting its first football match in April.
Now, laborers are building a platform and stadium seats have been painted white, with a crimson-red trim.
“We’re coordinating with the RCC and the Syrian Democratic Council to rehabilitate the national stadium,” said Imad Al-Himad, a contractor.
It has so far cost around 100,000 Syrian pounds.
“This was the ‘black stadium,’ and since it was repainted white, it’ll be known as the White Stadium,” said Himad.


Israel cuts Gaza fishing limit after fire balloons

Updated 23 May 2019
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Israel cuts Gaza fishing limit after fire balloons

  • Israel reduced the fishing limit to 10 nautical miles
  • The countries agreed to 20 nautical miles in the Oslo accords of 1990s

JERUSALEM: Israel reduced the offshore fishing limits it imposes for vessels operating out of Gaza from Thursday after Palestinians floated balloons fitted with incendiaries over the border, officials said.
The cut came just two days after Israel restored the limits to those set in April ahead of an Israeli general election.
“A decision was taken this Wednesday evening to reduce the fishing zone off the Gaza Strip to 10 nautical miles until further notice,” said COGAT, the defense ministry unit that oversees such regulations.
“The decision was taken after the launch of incendiary balloons from Gaza toward Israel,” it added.
Palestinians in Gaza have frequently floated balloons fitted with firebombs over the border to damage Israeli property and have in the past succeeded in setting fire to large areas of farmland.
Israel banned fishing completely when two days of deadly violence erupted earlier this month, but lifted the ban with a restriction of up to 12 nautical miles following a truce.
The 15-nautical-mile limit that had been restored on Tuesday was the largest allowed in years by Israel, which has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in the enclave and has blockaded it for more than a decade.
But human rights activists note that it still falls short of the 20 nautical miles agreed under the Oslo accords of the 1990s.
Israeli authorities have not said whether the 15-mile limit was one of the understandings reached as part of the May 6 cease-fire in Gaza but Israel media reported on Monday that it was.
The additional nautical miles are important to Gaza fishermen as they bring more valuable, deeper water species within reach.
Four Israeli civilians and 25 Palestinians, including at least nine militants, were killed in this month’s exchanges across the border.