Syrian troops target health workers and wounded
Syrian forces are targeting medical workers and patients who were wounded in the 14-month-old conflict, forcing doctors to scramble to help the injured in makeshift clinics, an aid agency has said.
Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, which is not authorised to work in Syria, sent teams into the country secretly. They reached the rebellious areas of Homs and Idlib, where they found patients and doctors at risk of attack and arrest.
"Being caught with patients is like being caught with a weapon," the group quoted an orthopedic surgeon as saying in an Idlib village. "The atmosphere in most medical facilities is extremely tense; health care workers send wounded patients home and provide only first aid so that facilities can be evacuated quickly in the event of a military operation."
Homs and Idlib have been among the hardest hit regions in President Bashar Assad's military crackdown and rebel attacks on soldiers and other regime targets.
Doctors Without Borders called on all parties in the conflict to fully respect health workers, medical facilities, and the wounded.
There have been previous reports of authorities targeting medical facilities, health workers and their patients in Syria as well as in Bahrain, which has seen widespread protests led by the country's Shiite majority against the long-ruling Sunni monarchy. The reports indicate many of the injured forgo treatment because they fear being detained and tortured if they seek care at government-controlled medical facilities.
"A number of Syrian colleagues are reported to be missing," said Marie-Noelle Rodrigue, MSF's director of operations in Paris. "The authorities and all parties to the conflict must ensure that medical workers can operate without fear of retribution and that wounded people can safely seek and receive immediate lifesaving care, without resorting to inadequate improvised clinics for fear of arrest, or worse."
An MSF surgeon said his team in Idlib had to flee a public hospital in 10 minutes after being notified of an imminent attack.
"We saw militarized health care facilities, meaning that access to medical care depends on which side you belong," said Brice de le Vingne, MSF's director of operations in Brussels.
The Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with mostly peaceful protests calling for change, but a relentless government crackdown led many in the opposition to take up arms. Some soldiers also have switched sides and joined forces with the rebels.
World powers have backed a peace plan that was put forward by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, but the bloodshed has not stopped. More than 200 U.N. observers have been deployed in Syria to oversee the truce between the government and armed rebels. The U.N. estimates the conflict has killed more than 9,000 people.
U.N. spokesman Hassan Seklawi said 211 military observers as well as 66 civilian U.N. staffers working for the observation mission have been deployed in the country, with teams based in major cities such as Aleppo, Hama, Idlib, Deir el-Zour, Daraa and Homs.
The number of military observers is expected to reach the maximum of 300 later this month.