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Doctor Says Syrian Government Is Increasing Bombings Of Hospitals

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next we have a reminder that the war in Syria goes on. It would be easy for many Americans to overlook that. The U.S. declared victory against ISIS, but that other war, the civil war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, continues. Rebels still control much of Idlib, which is the name of a city and a province in northwestern Syria. The government and its Russian allies have bombed the rebels there, and doctors who work there say that in the past week or so airstrikes hit numerous hospitals.

Dr. Ahmad Tarakji leads the Syrian American Medical Society, which operates hospitals inside Syria. He is an American, and between trips to Syria, he told us hospitals are targeted despite efforts to shelter them.

AHMAD TARAKJI: We try to put those hospitals underground, as we found that they are the primary target of any military operation. But also, you cannot do that in every single hospital that's there inside Syria.

INSKEEP: So you just said that hitting hospitals would be the primary target of any military operation. Did I understand you correctly?

TARAKJI: That's perfectly correct. When there is an intent to displace people, then hospitals start to get targeted and in a pattern that's very predictable. We've seen it before in Aleppo. In addition to putting those hospitals in underground structures or in caves hospital (ph), we share the location, the coordinates of these hospitals with the U.N. agencies, with Russia, with the United States, as they both are leading the humanitarian task force in Syria.

So everybody is aware of the locations of those hospitals. And last week for example, going back to what's going on in Idlib, when you have 12 hospitals hit in a small area, when they're struck and they're damaged directly, you realize that this is beyond just collateral damage and beyond just a limited-scale operation.

INSKEEP: Are these bombings of medical facilities that you describe causing the health care system, what's left of it, to collapse?

TARAKJI: Yes. So there are two major consequences of those attacks. One is the major new displacement wave that we are seeing right now. We estimate that about 190,000 people have been displaced from southern and western parts of Idlib trying to go up north. And also the health system is really fragile, it's up to its limit. And barely we're able to provide emergent medical services.

And with more hospitals being destroyed, we're just - it's beyond our capacity even to respond at this time. Our hope that over the last few years - and we try to focus on that - is to stabilize the communities wherever we are at. And now we're seeing regular hospitals being bombed, dialysis centers and so on. That undermines any effort to stabilize the communities in this area.

INSKEEP: If we were having this conversation - I don't know - five, six years ago, it might be possible to envision a scenario in which rebels would win the war at some point. It's getting harder and harder to imagine that scenario at all. What are the rebels still fighting for?

TARAKJI: Well, I mean, as you know, as a physician I focus more on the humanitarian sector. The people who are fighting, who are carrying the weapons, those fighters unfortunately, on both sides, are the younger generation who have only lived through the war for the last seven or eight years. That's their only source of income. There is an ideological fuel, if you would want, into the war. And it's very easy right now anywhere in Syria to get a weapon as opposed to get an antibiotic.

INSKEEP: What crosses your mind when you visit Syria and come back to the United States?

TARAKJI: So I am from the city of Aleppo. It's a big city. It's an old city. In my mind it's similar to San Francisco. And I feel that the area of Idlib is comparable to the Central Valley in California, where it's green land. And usually there's lots of agriculture and farmers and so on. I think many of us take it for granted that security, peace, stability is something that is natural. Actually, it's an active process. We all have to make sure that we protect each other first, and we all have to protect each other and protect our safety and security in our homeland here in the States.

INSKEEP: Dr. Tarakji, thanks so much.

TARAKJI: Thank you for the opportunity.

(SOUNDBITE OF PENSEES' "LUNAMOTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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