As doctors working on the frontlines of the war in Aleppo, we viewed the cessation of hostilities that was brokered in February with scepticism. Over the last week, our worst fears were driven home in the most horrific circumstances. The city is bleeding.
On Wednesday, Syrian or Russian jets bombed the Al Quds hospital in eastern Aleppo city. At least 30 people lost their lives, at least 60 more were injured, and our friends at the White Helmets continue to pull bodies out from the rubble. Among those killed in the attack our dear friend and colleague, Dr. Muhmmad Wassim Maaz.
We will always remember Dr. Maaz as the kindest and bravest of souls, whose devotion to treating the youngest victims of this war was unparalleled. That attack robbed eastern Aleppo of its last remaining paediatricians, and we considered Dr. Wassim one of the best paediatricians left inside of Syria. It was another deadly reminder that those attacking Aleppo have no regard for the sanctity of life or humanity.
Another dear friend, Dr. Mohammed Ahmad, one of the ten dentists remaining in eastern Aleppo, was also killed in the airstrikes. He joins Dr. Maaz and at least 730 of our Syrian colleagues who were killed in Syria over the last five years. Our heroic colleagues at the White Helmets have similarly suffered grave losses for risking their lives to save others. Just one day before Dr. Ahmad and Dr. Maaz were killed, the Al-Alareb Training Center of the White Helmets, was hit by multiple surface-to-surface airstrikes, killing five of their volunteers: Ahmad Abdullah, Khaled Bashar, Ahmad Mahmoud, Hamdo Haj Ibrahim, and Hussain Ismail.
Soon there will no medical professionals at all left in Aleppo – where will civilians turn to for care and attention?
In a two day period this week, nearly four people were killed every hour and over fifty injured. Our hospitals are at breaking point. If this isn’t a sign that the cessation of hostilities has failed then we do not know what is.
Russia and the US made what they said were firm commitments to see a cessation of hostilities take hold and endure, but they are now failing on those commitments and it is the women, children and elderly of Aleppo who are paying the heaviest price.
While a ceasefire is by no means a lasting solution to the crisis, reinforcing it might help stave off further massacres like the attack on Al Quds Hospital and a complete siege of Aleppo. If Aleppo were to be besieged it could result in a disaster akin to the scale of Srebrenica.
Russia claims it is serious about peace, so it now must live up to its obligations and ensure that airstrikes against the city stop and a cessation of hostilities takes hold and is respected by all parties.
If Russian and international pressure can bring an end to the assault against Aleppo it will be a positive step, but more needs to be done. As medical professionals, we are struggling every day to access the vital supplies we need to treat the injured and dying. Supplies coming from Castello Road, the only road from which humanitarian supplies in eastern Aleppo can be accessed, has been disrupted for months and is now barely functional. The US should use its leverage to ensure this essential supply route is not impeded again.
As co-leads of the ISSG, events unfolding are happening on the watch of Presidents Putin and Obama. They have the power and responsibility to protect civilians. We hope and pray they will use it, for the sake of Syria, Aleppo, our patients and ourselves.