PARIS: A French doctor who has played a prominent role in the provision of humanitarian assistance to victims of the Syrian war has denounced the indifference of the global community to the bombing of civilians, medical facilities and relief centers in Idlib by Russian and regime forces.
Dr. Raphaël Pitti is in charge of medical and relief care training for the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), a coalition of humanitarian, nongovernmental and medical organizations providing assistance to Syrians. He established training centers for medical care staff at Bab El-Hawar, on the border between Syria and Turkey, and in Arsal on the border between Syria and Lebanon.
“We worked underground (in Lebanon) and then Hezbollah attacked the village so we had to close and go to Jordan, where we had problems with Jordanian intelligence,” Pitti told Arab News. “A fourth center is now in the town of Al-Malikiyah (known locally as Derek, near the borders with Turkey and Iraq), so only two of the centers are still functioning.”
The relentless attacks in Idlib, including strikes against civilians, are forcing many organizations to halt their humanitarian efforts.
“The indiscriminate bombings hit a refugee camp on Wednesday and these acts make it very difficult for the UN humanitarian convoys to bring assistance from across the border,” said Pitti.
“Before the bombings, the people in camps received aid after registering with the town and village civilian committees but now, with some 800,000 people displaced, the population is scattered and humanitarian aid is very difficult to deliver. For the time being, the organizations in charge of refugee camps will receive humanitarian aid brought by the UN to the north.”
He gave some heartbreaking examples of the kinds of tragedies that are taking place as people struggle to survive in the hostile conditions.
“The fleeing population represents a real humanitarian disaster and it is very difficult to meet basic needs,” he said. “We are seeing people dying from cold; two days ago a man and his two children were found in their tent, all three dead from the cold. Another little girl, who was being carried by her father while he walked to a hospital, died of the cold.”
Nowhere is safe from the relentless, indiscriminate bombing by regime and Russian forces, not even hospitals and health centers.
“More than 67 hospital units have been destroyed,” said Pitti. “A few days ago, a maternity unit was bombed and destroyed along with a surgical center. Other units destroyed include centers for basic primary medical care, ambulance centers and hospitals, all targeted since April 2019 when the Syrian regime decided to reconquer the zone.
“The Russians have systematically bombed civilian hospitals and medical care zones. It is difficult now to provide the population with medical care and we have had to resort to a mobile clinic that enables us to move away from the bombings to serve the scattered population. However, this is insufficient for the huge number of displaced people.
“UOSSM still has a functioning hospital at Bab El-Hawar but we are afraid of being targeted by Russian bombing. All this is happening against the backdrop of international indifference; we have the impression that a decision has been made to let the Russians and the regime finish the job and reconquer the zone, and they will then say the war has ended.”
Pitti said the intention behind the bombing is to terrify the population and displace it while preventing rebels and militants from settling and putting in place a territorial organization, by convincing civilians that living under the rebels is very dangerous, forcing them to relocate.
“Iranian militias and Hezbollah are present everywhere on the ground,” said Pitti. “In Idlib, the civilian population is terrified of the Iranian mercenary militias because they have seen how the militias killed, tortured and raped in Ghouta and Aleppo, and how they stopped buses and removed passengers. The Iranians who surrounded Ghouta and Aleppo humiliated men and forced them to undress. They were nothing short of savages.”
Turkish forces had intervened, Pitti said, because of observation towers in what was supposedly a de-escalation zone; it was not expected that Idlib would be attacked. He added that the displacement of the population toward the Turkish border is a problem for Ankara, which does not want more people entering Turkey and so is trying to slow the flow of refugees. However, the people of Idlib are trapped and the only escape route they have from the violence is toward the border and into Turkey.
Pitti appealed to the global community to “let the Syrian population live in peace. For nine years they have lived in hell. They have endured chemical weapons, cluster bombs, phosphorous, napalm and wholesale destruction.”
UOSSM was founded in 2011 by Syrian refugees in France, the US, Canada and Switzerland. It is an international nonprofit organization that sponsors projects in its host countries.
France has provided $3 million in funding and there have been additional donations from elsewhere in Europe. The union’s projects include the maintenance and provision of hospitals, ambulances, mobile hospitals, and a variety of medical centers, including dental care. It has more than 1,200 salaried employees.