ALEPPO, Syria, April 29, (AFP): Regime aircraft pounded rebel areas of Syria’s second city Aleppo on Friday, damaging a clinic just days after a strike on another hospital killed two doctors and sparked international outcry. More than 200 civilians have been killed in Aleppo over the past week, as rebels fire rockets into governmentheld neighbourhoods and regime air strikes hit opposition areas. The bloodshed has brought a landmark Feb 27 ceasefire to the verge of collapse and raised fears of a humanitarian crisis in the northern metropolis. Despite the bloodshed, Aleppo is excluded from a fresh “freeze” in fighting brokered by the United States and Russia.
Syria’s armed forces said that the freeze would begin at 1:00 am on Saturday (2200 GMT Friday) and last for 24 hours in Damascus and the nearby rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta, and 72 hours in the coastal Latakia province. A Syrian security source said the deal came as part of a US-Russia agreement, but that Moscow had refused a request by Washington to include Aleppo in the pact. On Friday, at least 11 people were killed in regime bombardment of the city’s eastern districts, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Rebel groups fired a barrage of rockets on governmentcontrolled western neighbourhoods, killing at least 13 people, the monitor said. Air strikes and barrel bombs could be heard across rebel neighbourhoods, mixing with the wail of ambulances, an AFP correspondent in the city said. “The planes didn’t sleep and didn’t let us sleep either,” one resident of the densely populated Bustan al-Qasr district told AFP.
One raid hit a local clinic in the rebel-held Al-Maja neighbourhood, wounding several people including a nurse, the civil defence group known as the White Helmets said. The clinic, which had been providing dental services and treatment for chronic illnesses for about five years, was badly damaged. Medical equipment lay scattered across the clinic’s floor, covered in debris and dust, an AFP correspondent there said. “We serve civilians in this establishment, there were no fighters here,” said Hassan al- Ahmad, who heads the clinic. It was the second time this week that an air strike hit one of the few medical facilities still operating in rebel areas.
Late Wednesday, air strikes hit the Al-Quds hospital and a nearby block of flats in the Sukkari neighbourhood, killing 30 people. Dr. Mohammad Wassim Maaz, known as the most qualified paediatrician in eastern Aleppo, was among the dead. “He was friendly, kind and he used to joke a lot with the whole staff. He was the loveliest doctor in our hospital,” Dr. Hatem, a colleague, wrote in a letter published by The Syria Campaign advocacy group. Maaz was originally from Aleppo and had been preparing to travel across the border to Turkey to visit his family. “Like so many others, Dr Maaz was killed for saving lives,” said Dr Hatem, a colleague who preferred not to give his full name.
Hatem manages the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo, where Dr Maaz worked during the day before tending to emergency cases in Al-Quds hospital overnight. “Dr Maaz and I used to spend six hours a day together. He was friendly, kind and he used to joke a lot with the whole staff. He was the loveliest doctor in our hospital,” Hatem wrote in a letter published by The Syria Campaign advocacy group. More than 270,000 people have been killed in Syria’s brutal conflict, which has seen hospitals destroyed and medical staff killed across the country. “Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients,” Hatem said. Al-Quds hospital was supported by both Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
MSF said it had been donating medical supplies since 2012 to the 34-bed Al-Quds hospital, where eight doctors and 28 nurses worked full time. “Out of the eight doctors, there are now only six left,” Miskilda Zancada, the head of MSF’s Syria mission, told AFP from Kilis in Turkey. She said 95 percent of the doctors in opposition-held parts of the city have left or been killed, leaving between 70 to 80 doctors to treat 250,000 people. “The people who are left in Aleppo are the most vulnerable,” Zancada said.
MSF spokeswoman Mirella Hodeib said Dr Maaz was a “very dedicated paediatrician and chose to risk his life to help the people of Aleppo”. “His death is a terrible loss.” US Secretary of State John Kerry called on Moscow to press its Damascus ally “to stop attacking civilians, medical facilities, and first responders, and to abide fully by the cessation of hostilities.” Al-Quds was supported by both Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The UN’s rights chief on Friday slammed world powers backing opposing sides in Syria. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said renewed violence, including strikes on markets and medical facilities, showed a “monstrous disregard for civilians lives by all parties to the conflict”. “In the minds of many, the world’s great powers have in effect become accomplices to the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of human beings, and the displacement of millions.”
An online campaign to halt the carnage picked up speed, with Twitter users posting pictures of destroyed buildings in flames with the hashtag #AleppoIsBurning. In a western government-held neighbourhood, Nour Shmeilan, an Orthodox Christian, said she was too afraid to attend Good Friday church services.