By Ammar Hamou and Avery Edelman

AMMAN: Doctors in the opposition-held suburbs of Damascus suspended work indefinitely on Sunday, demanding that all military factions in the area respect medical neutrality and allow medical teams to move freely, after a medical team was assaulted at a local checkpoint.

The medical strike in East Ghouta comes amidst ongoing armed clashes between rebel groups present in the opposition stronghold, which has been besieged by government forces since 2012.

Those clashes involve Jaysh al-Islam, the dominant faction, on one side and Failaq al-Rahman and fighters from an al-Qaeda-linked alliance on the other.

The outbreak of violence comes exactly a year after similar infighting between East Ghouta’s factions resulted in hundreds of deaths and the division of the suburbs into faction-affiliated enclaves separated by military checkpoints.

It was at one of those checkpoints that Dr. Emad Qabani, president of East Ghouta’s Unified Medical Bureau, and his colleagues were subject to assault by elements of Failaq al-Rahman on Saturday, according to Ghazwan al-Hakim, a doctor in the area.

The assault sparked “anger” among residents of the area, says Nader al-Ghoutani, a civilian who spoke to the Syrian Voice. He noted that the event reflects the absence of “laws deterring violations against civilians and civil society organizations” in East Ghouta.

The assault was also addressed by the medical bureau itself, which released a statement Sunday morning condemning the attack, announcing the start of a medical-worker strike (with the exception of emergency services) and outlining a number of demands.

The demands include that all roads in the area be opened and cleared of checkpoints in order to improve freedom of movement for medical patients and civilians.

The statement also emphasizes that medical institutions must be considered a neutral party and that their staff should be immune from abuse, harm or arrest.

In order to address the demands outlined, leaders of both Jaysh al-Islam and Failaq al-Rahman met with representatives of the bureau Sunday night.

Abo Nasr Shamir, commander of Failaq al-Rahman, met with the Unified Medical Bureau of East Ghouta Sunday night. Photo courtesy of a local media activist.

“The meeting was productive and the factions made initial agreements to implement the demands” according to al-Hakim, who was present.

Nonetheless, he said the strike will continue until the changes are in place.

He added that the first day of the strike was “successful,” with 90% of medical and pharmaceutical professionals taking part.

Meanwhile, Failaq al-Rahman also issued an apology to the medical bureau’s staff, admitting that the doctors were subject to “abuse” and adding that the faction has “initiated reforms and will hold the necessary elements responsible,” according to Umayya Press.

Despite the medical strike and the positive response from military factions, one civilian in the area, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Syrian Voice that the developments will merely “alleviate the pain and contain anger in the streets.”

“The problems will not be solved until there are effective decisions by all sides to remove the checkpoints,” he added.

Original Arabic article found here.