Of the thirty-five remaining doctors in war-torn Aleppo, fifteen have written a letter to Barack Obama urging decisive intervention to stop the bombardment of hospitals in Aleppo by the Russian-backed Syrian air force’s air strike campaign against rebel-held sections of the city.
The letter came after an announcement by Russia that a three-hour suspension of aerial activities would begin taking place each day. The announcement coincides with a UK-led plan, implemented through the U.N., to provide humanitarian relief through impartial actors in Aleppo.
“We do not need tears or sympathy or even prayers,” the doctors wrote.
“We desperately need a zone free from bombing over eastern Aleppo to stop the attacks, and international action to ensure Aleppo is never besieged again.”
The three-hour daily suspension of hostilities by Russia is intended to allow humanitarian convoys to enter the city. Yet a lack of sufficient aid has plagued both sides.
Saturday’s retaking of key military districts in Aleppo by rebel groups was greeted with jubilation by the Syrian resistance. Yet the newly accessible roads, which would allow for distribution of food and water to embattled residents, may mean little as the rebel coalition is believed to only have three weeks’ worth of supplies to distribute.
U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said he would consider the Russian plan, but stated that a 48-hour pause in hostilities would be needed to provide proper aid in Aleppo.
“When we’re offered three hours, then you have to ask: what could be achieved in those three hours?”, he asked in a briefing. “Is it to meet the need or will it only just meet a very small part of the need?”
The call for a 48-hour ceasefire has been consistently echoed by Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. A U.N. security council meeting on Tuesday failed to reach an agreement around a ceasefire. Another meeting today in Geneva will also discuss the movement for a 2-day pause of hostilities.
The push for a ceasefire has taken on new poignancy as stories of heart-wrenching decisions by doctors in Aleppo have reach the international community. Doctors in Aleppo often have to let children die due to lack of blood and medical supplies. Hospitals in Aleppo are also under attack every 17 hours, according to the letter, which stands in gross violation of international law and norms forbidding the targeting of hospitals during war.
“What pains us most, as doctors, is choosing who will live and who will die,” said the letter.
“Young children are sometimes brought into our emergency rooms so badly injured that we have to prioritise those with better chances, or simply don’t have the equipment to help them. Two weeks ago, four newborn babies gasping for air suffocated to death after a blast cut the oxygen supply to their incubators. Gasping for air, their lives ended before they had really begun.
“Right now, there is an attack on a medical facility every 17 hours. At this rate, our medical services in Aleppo could be completely destroyed in a month, leaving 300,000 people to die.”
Those doctors who did not sign the letter said they did so because they do not wish to make any further requests of the west. Many in Syria feel that the west has abandoned them during one of the bloodiest and most devastating conflicts of the twenty-first century.
Despite Russia’s backing, Assad’s loyalist forces have been unable to decisively retake Aleppo, and have recently lost key sectors of the city to a coalition of rebels which includes the Free Syrian Army.