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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 2012, Page 65

Waging Peace

Syrian Humanitarian Situation Sours

(L-r) Dr. Abdul Majeed Katranji, Rafif Jouejati, Sawsan Jabri and Rasha Othman. (Staff photo M. Ahmad)

At a June 15 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC held by the Syrian Expatriates Organization, activists from the cities of Hama, Al-Houleh, Homs and Damascus spoke to reporters via Skype.

The activists chose to use pseudonyms in order to protect their identities. Even then, according to Dr. Abdul Majeed Katranji of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), they were at risk of being detected by the Syrian regime's extensive Internet surveillance network.

Abu 'Arab, from Hama, said that the city currently is being held captive and is separated by a series of checkpoints. He further alleged that President Bashar al-Assad's regime has conducted a series of random raids on the city in an effort to seek out opposition fighters. He also claimed that the regime has targeted children, whom he called "the flowers and future of the country."

Syrian-American children join in the July 14 protest at the West Los Angeles Federal Building decrying the killing of their cousins July 12 at Treimseh near Hama, Syria. (Staff Photo S. Twair)

Abu 'Arab described in detail a June 6 massacre in Al-Aqbayr and Al-Qustoon, towns near Hama, stating that 25 children suffered gruesome deaths resulting from stabbings, shootings and burnings. A total of 78 people were killed in those attacks, Abu 'Arab said.

Abu' Osama of Al-Houleh described a massacre that occurred May 25 and 26 in the Teldo area of Al-Houleh. According to Abu' Osama, a total of 63 people were killed in the two-day massacre. He stressed the dire humanitarian crisis in the town, saying that basic "elements of life," such as food and water, are scarce.

Abu Rami of Homs, a city that has been the site of much fighting, said that the city's residents are "under the prison of the regime." Claiming that the people of Homs are in an unlivable situation, he noted that there is a severe lack of food in the city and charged that Assad's regime is dominating water sources.

Furthermore, Abu Rami said that snipers regularly target medical groups, and have recently occupied two hospitals in Homs. His distress palpable, Abu Rami begged for Red Crescent or Red Cross workers to enter the area.

Speaking from the relatively less "hot" Damascus, Abu Hadi highlighted an aspect of the crisis mentioned by several of the other activists: childbirth deaths. The lack of medical attention being given to mothers in labor has resulted in a spike in labor-related deaths, he explained, adding that these deaths are especially frustrating for medical personnel because they can be easily avoided with basic medical facilities.

Dr. Katranji of SAMS echoed the activists' descriptions of the growing humanitarian crisis, charging that there has been a "specific targeting of rehabilitation institutions" and that these attacks cause the effects of the conflict to be deepened. Dr. Katranji, who has assisted Syrian refugees in Turkish camps, accused the Assad regime of targeting towns that refugees travel through while fleeing violence in their own city. Such tactics, he said, intimidate townspeople and make them reconsider harboring refugees.

Katranji implored the journalists in attendance to more fully highlight the humanitarian crisis in Syria. "We need 200 to 300 field hospitals. Currently there are 55," he said. "With no-fly zones and medical shields, doctors and international coalitions can at least aid in the most basic medical problems."

—Meher Ahmad