Medical and humanitarian workers in opposition-controlled Hama went on strike for three hours on Wednesday, halting non-emergency services in protest of what they call systematic targeting of medical sites by the Syrian regime and Russia.
The strike was organized by the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), a France-based coalition of humanitarian and medical societies founded in 2012 to provide medical aid in Syria.
A variety of organizations across Syria and abroad participated in the strike and accompanying protest, including the Syrian Expatriate Medical Association (SEMA) and the Syrian American Medical Association (SAMS) in addition to medical personnel in opposition-controlled Hama, Aleppo, a-Sahel, and Idlib.
They are demanding the immediate cessation of airstrikes and the protection of civilians at all costs.
Within opposition territories, 44 medical centers have been hit by Russian-backed regime airstrikes in the past year, according to a report published this month by the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
“Stop bombing our hospitals and foundations. Stop bombing our medical staff. We are not calling for war. We are calling for peace,” says Dr. Abdullah a-Darwish, who oversees all medical facilities in opposition-controlled Hama, summing up the message of the protest in a conversation with a Syrian Voice correspondent.
A-Darwish made his plea on Wednesday at a protest in the province’s northern countryside while surrounded by medical staff.
Holding simple white signs with black text, protesters displayed the slogans “Stop the Air Raids,” “Humanitarian Workers Aren’t Targets,” and “Doctors Aren’t Enemies,” among others.
Since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011, 344 attacks have been carried out by Assad’s regime and allied forces against the country’s health system, says a June 2016 report from Physicians for Human Rights.
The report concludes there is clear evidence that targeting medical facilities and personnel “represents a widespread and systematic governmental policy.”
The goal of the protest is “to send a message that the medical sector is outside of the military conflict,” Dr. Tamam Abu al-Kheir, a regional director for UOSSM in northern Syria, told a Syrian Voice correspondent on Wednesday.
‘Stripped of their humanity’
The strike by medical workers comes against the backdrop of the latest offensive in Aleppo by Syrian regime and Russian warplanes.
Two of the besieged city’s largest hospitals are seriously damaged due to the regime’s Russian-supported air campaign, causing temporary disruptions in medical service, Syria Direct reported Wednesday.
Of the 44 medical facilities targeted by airstrikes in the past year, 24 were located within rebel-held territories in Aleppo province, documented the Syrian Network for Human Rights in their September 2016 update.
In rebel-held Hama, more than 75 percent of medical facilities under Hama’s opposition-affiliated medical directorate have been subject to regime and Russian bombardment, according to what the region’s interim Department of Health told the Syrian Voice.
“More than 550 workers in the medical field within Hama’s health directorate have been in mortal danger due to the repeated targeting of medical facilities,” a department spokesperson, requesting anonymity, told the Syrian Voice.
“In turn, 500,000 civilians are threatened by loss of medical service,” he added.
“We don’t know if the strike and our words will be fruitful, but we need to put pressure [on the international community] in whatever ways we can,” UOSSM director Dr. Tamam explained.
For his part, Dr. Abdullah a-Darwish holds both the UN Security Council and World Health Organization legally and morally responsible for the current situation wherein civilians and medical workers are directly targeted.
“This is our final plea,” he told a Syrian Voice correspondent. “They’ve been stripped of their humanity.”
Though Russian government officials have denied incidents of targeting medical facilities, humanitarian and medical organizations such as the Syrian American Medical Association and Amnesty International have been outspoken against what they consider ‘war crimes’ by Russia.
“These attacks have deepened the agonies of the wounded and injured,” Fadel Abdul Ghami, chair of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, wrote in the organization’s 2016 report.
“It sends a very clear message: there is no safe area or a red line, you either flee or perish.”
Translated by Tariq Adely