Syria, where at least 72 people have died, including 20 children, in a suspected chemical attack in the northern province of Idlib. It’s been described as the largest chemical attack in Syria since 2013. The United States, France and Britain have accused the Assad government of carrying out the attack and have proposed a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning it. Meanwhile, Russia is claiming the gases were released after a Syrian airstrike hit a depot where rebels were making chemical weapons.
Dr. Rola Hallam talking:
it would seem that about 6:30 in the morning, there was an airstrike in a town that has—that resulted in hundreds of civilians, mostly children, I believe, about 50 percent of them, to exhibit signs of exposure to a nerve agent. So they were found to be either comatose, not breathing, foaming at the mouth, having spasms, vomiting. Many were rushed to nearby Rahma Hospital, as well as an MSF-based clinic, that were then also hit by an airstrike. And I believe the death toll now is at over a hundred civilians, with about 380 injured.
Syria has now become a circus of death. There are just so many incredible ways in which civilians are now being slaughtered. From—as a doctor, as an anesthesiologist, you know, the targeting of healthcare and of doctors in these last few years, over 340 facilities that have been attacked, nearly 800 of my colleagues—doctors, nurses and aid workers—who have been killed, for delivering aid. And now you’ve got this chemical weapons attack. I was actually in Syria when the last large attack happened in Ghouta in 2013. Those images yesterday, I have to say, paralyzed me for most of the day, as they brought back horrific memories of what I witnessed myself, not in Damascus with the chemical weapons, but of a similar aerial bombardment with an incendiary weapon, and children who also arrived unable to breathe because of their choking. And that’s obviously not even considering the over 1 million who are being starved to death. So, I think that, with this—with this circus of murder, that there is a need to uphold international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions, and that’s protecting the medical neutrality as well as stopping these indiscriminate, murderous attacks on civilians.
what I find incredibly frustrating about all of these discussions is that, in a bid to kind of point the finger at whodunnit, we forget the civilians, and we forget the incredible, heroic work of the Syrian humanitarians. And we have had to get up and dust ourselves, day in and day out, as we get attacked, as our community and civilians get attacked. And then we’re not discussed, right? The suffering doesn’t get discussed.
There are now like hundreds of people who have lost their children, who have lost their wives, who have lost their husbands. There are now even fewer medical facilities, when we already know that 11 million people are in dire need of healthcare. What does that look like? We don’t talk about that. That means women are delivering on their kitchen floor with no healthcare workers. That means whenever there are the basic infections, there are no more antibiotics left in Syria. People are having to have surgery without anesthesia, or not having surgery at all. I find it really frustrating that we never really talk about these really incredible examples of suffering, which are really, really important to discuss.
As doctors and as humanitarians, we’re not interested in regime change and who’s in charge. What we are interested in is stopping the bloodshed and stopping this mass murder and massacre of civilians. I don’t think that it’s a very big change in policy, to be honest. I think it’s just now a little bit more honest than it was before.
And I’ll be speaking with the U.S. ambassador, Haley, at the summit this evening. And I look forward to speaking with her about what does the United Nations intend to do on these blatant disregard for various humanitarian laws and norms, because I think this is a really dangerous precedent that’s being set right now in Syria. When it becomes normal to target and bomb hospitals and use it as a weapon of war, when it becomes normal, after countless resolutions in the United Nations banning the use of these mass—agents of mass destruction, then what happens next? And what if—in another war in Europe, in the States, is it OK to start bombing your hospitals? I think that is an incredible, dangerous precedent.
I think Russia can do an awful lot, as we know. It supposedly brokered this chemical weapons deal back in 2013, which we know was just a stage. There’s been over 160 chemical weapons attack. And actually, there was one large one back in December using sarin gas, where nearly a hundred people were killed there, as well. So, I think there is a huge amount that they can do.
But, look, we’re not short on evidence in Syria, Amy. What we are short on is action. We’re short on leadership. It is—it is complex. But there are—I cannot believe that in—you know, we’re human beings. We’ve put man on the moon. We’re now talking about setting up colonies on the moon and Mars. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we actually can bring a political solution and stop this bloodshed. But it requires leadership, and brave leadership, and we seem to be short on that around the world.
the glimmer of hope in this real kind of scene of absolute devastation. So, the People’s Convoy was basically—it came out of the bombings of five hospitals in east Aleppo back in November. And I knew that so many people around the world, engaged citizens, wanted to show their love, care and support and solidarity with Syrian humanitarians, but didn’t know how to channel that. So that was where the People’s Convoy came. And over 5,000 people from around the world crowdfunded the first-ever hospital. And we then physically took the hospital equipment all the way to Syria, working with the Independent Doctors Association, our Syrian NGO. And they were just so incredibly moved by this happening from around the world. They’ve called it Hope Hospital. And today, Hope Hospital opened its doors to children in Aleppo area.
We have a huge deficit in the humanitarian aid that needs to be delivered there, and there are multiple reasons for that. Certainly, there’s over a million, as you know, in besieged areas that we cannot access. But the huge problem, Amy, is that we’ve got—it’s the local humanitarians, the Syrian NGOs, that are delivering most of the work. In fact, Local to Global Protection said we were doing 75 percent of the humanitarian work. But we are receiving a shocking less than 1 percent of the humanitarian funding. And it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if the groups who have access, who are actually delivering the aid on the ground, do not have the funding, that therefore there are millions of people who are needlessly dying and suffering, because we’re not able to deliver the aid that is happening, that is there, to them.
there has just been so many signs by various international leaders that these war crimes are going to continue to occur with impunity. And that is what’s happening.
Dr. Rola Hallam
British-Syrian doctor speaking at the Women in the World Summit today. She’s the founder and CEO of the nonprofit CanDo.
— source democracynow.org