Gaziantep, Turkey—Syria’s largest city Aleppo now joins Rwanda and Srebrenica on a list to haunt the international community, whatever meaning the phrase “international community” holds any more.
The United Nations has failed to stop the slaughter, as have the world’s major powers. One of them, Russia, is directly involved in the crime, firing missiles into Aleppo from an aircraft carrier.
A generation ago, during the Balkans War and the Rwanda genocide, some of us gradually realized that even when the world knows that people are being and are about to be slaughtered, it won’t necessarily act to stop it.
And there’s no claiming that the world doesn’t know what’s happening in Aleppo. Traditional and social media have been generating text and images for years now about the aerial bombardment of hospitals, schools and other civilian centers in the city.
Eastern Aleppo has been under siege for months―an outline of a ceasefire in September raised hopes that humanitarian aid might reach the city, but without credible enforcement mechanisms the proposed cessation of hostilities brokered by Russia and the United States never took hold.
Aleppo is about 70 miles from here, just across the border, and various medical and humanitarian organizations based in southern Turkey have been desperately trying to get supplies into the city for months. Even before the bombardment of recent days crippling fuel shortages and a desperate lack of medical equipment have choked the city’s hospitals.
“There have been no real supplies for months. Priorities include medical consumables like trauma medicine and anesthesia drugs,” Omar Safadi of the Independent Doctors Association (IDA) told me.
Then Friday morning, around 9:40 a.m. local time, the last children’s hospital operating in besieged eastern Aleppo was targeted by two missiles from the Russian-backed Syrian regime, which “caused massive destruction at a time when the medical staff in the hospital were busy treating dozens of victims of showing symptoms of a chlorine attack,” said the IDA. Two days before, reported the medic organization, the hospital had been targeted in an attack in which 20 barrel bombs hit the area.
Three pediatricians were still working in the hospital Friday morning. One of them, Dr. Ghaith, explained: “Whilst we were treating patients the hospital was targeted by two parachute guided missiles. The strikes caused massive destruction of the hospital, injuries to the staff and the power to cut. With the power cut the staff risked their lives rushing to save those [babies] in the incubators.”
After years of working against impossible odds in unimaginable danger, the remaining doctors have now decided not to reopen the hospital. By the early hours of Saturday morning all of east Aleppo’s operating hospitals were closed because of the intense shelling.
There’s no pretending the world hasn’t known what’s been happening to Syrian medical facilities. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported attacks on five hospitals in Syria “on 13-15 November 2016, including three hospitals in Western Rural Aleppo...throughout 2016, WHO and partners have documented 126 such attacks across the country”.
Gaziantep has become a hub for Syrian activists forced into Turkey by the war, and many here are understandably cynical about the international community’s will to prevent the slaughter. “We can keep documenting and publicizing these war crimes, but who’s going to make them stop?” asked one.
“Nothing at all is to be expected from America in this transition period,” said Maya Hautefeuille of IDA. “So we’re appealing to the major European powers to try to make this stop.”
While some have reluctantly concluded that the international community doesn’t possess the political will to prevent what’s happening others still remain incredulous. Director of the children’s hospital in Aleppo, Dr. Hatim, said “We cannot believe that the world’s most powerful countries can’t stop children’s hospitals being bombed and thousands facing starvation.”