Syrian Doctors Write Letter to President Obama, Urging Him to Act in Aleppo

"We have seen no effort on behalf of the U.S. to lift the siege," they wrote.

ByABC News
August 11, 2016, 5:05 PM
Medics carry Fatima Qassim, 6, who was badly injured in her legs after government forces fired on her family's car, to the emergency room in a hospital in Aleppo, Syria, Sept. 11, 2012.
Medics carry Fatima Qassim, 6, who was badly injured in her legs after government forces fired on her family's car, to the emergency room in a hospital in Aleppo, Syria, Sept. 11, 2012.
Muhammed Muheisen/AP Photo

LONDON -- Some of the last doctors remaining in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo have written a letter to President Obama, urging him to intervene to break the siege of the city and stop bombardments of hospitals. Their plea comes as fighting continues despite Russia’s announcement of a partial ceasefire.

“We have seen no effort on behalf of the United States to lift the siege or even use its influence to push the parties to protect civilians,” the doctors wrote in the letter obtained by ABC News. “Continued U.S. inaction to protect the civilians of Syria means that our plight is being willfully tolerated by those in the international corridors of power. The burden of responsibility for the crimes of the Syrian government and its Russian ally must therefore be shared by those, including the United States, who allow them to continue.”

The doctors said that last month alone Syria saw 42 attacks on medical facilities and that a medical facility in Syria is attacked every 17 hours. Two weeks ago, four newborn babies gasping for air suffocated to death after a blast cut the oxygen supply to their incubators, according to the doctors.

“At this rate, our medical services in Aleppo could be completely destroyed in a month, leaving 300,000 people to die,” the doctors wrote.

They explained that what pained them most was being forced to choose who will live and who will die.

“Young children are sometimes brought into our emergency rooms so badly injured that we have to prioritize those with better chances, or simply don’t have the equipment to help them,” they wrote. "We do not need tears or sympathy or even prayers, we need your action. Prove that you are the friend of Syrians, not the friend of our killers."

Hamza Khatib, one of the doctors who signed the letter and manager of al Quds hospital in Aleppo, said that he and his colleagues didn't write the letter because they expected that it would lead to actual change.

"We don't expect that this letter will actually result in a no-fly zone," he told ABC News today. "The letter is a scream from inside Aleppo. The idea was to let people on the outside and in the White House know about the things happening in Aleppo because of the siege."

He said that his hospital was attacked three times in the past three years. The latest attack happened at the end of April when several health personnel at the hospital were killed.

"You don’t have any way of defending yourself when an attack like that happens and you get the feeling that no one in the whole world is interested in defending you," he said. "After the destruction of a hospital, you can't offer medical service to the people who need it because you need to replace the medicine and equipment that was destroyed. In the last attack, we lost five members of our health personnel. We work together for 24 hours so it feels like losing your family members."

Andre Perache, head of programs at Doctors Without Borders in the United Kingdom and a former head of mission for Syria, said that lack of vital hospital supplies such as antibiotics and fuel to run generators forces doctors in Syria to make hard decisions.

“Physicians are forced to make horrible decisions. Sometimes they have to conduct an amputation on a wounded limb because they don’t have the supplies to treat the wound,” Perache told ABC News. “We’ve run out of adjectives here. We’ve been talking about a disaster, a crisis -- really the situation has gone from abysmal to apocalyptic in Aleppo.”

Last year, 160,000 patients wounded by war were treated in the 150 hospitals supported by Doctors Without Borders alone. A total of 94 airstrikes and canon bombardments targeted hospitals and clinics supported by the organization and around 63 hospitals were hit, some multiple times, while 12 were completely destroyed.

Due to the siege, it is very difficult to provide support to medical facilities in Aleppo and many other Syrian cities, Perache said.

“Access is such a problem. The support we are able to provide is a drop in the ocean,” he said. “I’ve worked in conflict for a decade and this is unlike anything the world has seen for a very long time.”

A senior Obama administration official confirmed to ABC News that the White House has received the letter from the group of doctors in Aleppo.

"The U.S. has repeatedly condemned indiscriminate bombing of medical facilities by the [Bashar al-Assad] regime in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria. These attacks are appalling and must cease," the White House said in a statement. "We commend the bravery of medical professionals across Syria who are working every day in perilous circumstances with minimal supplies to save lives. The U.S. is working continuously to address the crisis in Syria working through the U.N. and engaging with Russia and others to find a diplomatic approach to reduce the violence in a sustainable way and allow unimpeded lifesaving humanitarian assistance into areas like Aleppo."

Fighting continued today in Aleppo, more than an hour into a three-hour ceasefire announced by Russia, two rebel groups and a witness in the city told Reuters.

Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, Physicians for Human Rights, a New York-based advocacy group that uses science and medicine to stop severe human rights violations, has documented the deaths of more than 725 medical personnel and more than 350 attacks on health facilities in Syria.

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