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No supplies, no surgeons, no hope: Aleppo medics overwhelmed

Medical staff tell MEE they are struggling in face of Russian air attacks and watch as civilians die through lack of doctors and supplies
Civilians litter the floor of a make-shift hospital following air attacks on Aleppo on 24 September, 2016 (AFP)

Aleppo hospital staff say they are overwhelmed with casualties in the face of appalling conditions and dwindling supplies, as Russian and Syrian government forces prosecute an onslaught condemned at the UN as "barbarism" and "war crimes".

Speaking to Middle East Eye, medical staff said people were dying due to lack of surgeons, electricity and medicine, while reports said that many of those injured in air attacks faced emergency amputations for treatable wounds due to a lack of skills and supplies of blood.

Mohammed Zain Khandkany said his hospital, the M2 in rebel-held east Aleppo, had been attacked on Monday as staff tried to treat the latest wave of casualties from the renewed campaign that has left more than 100 dead since Thursday.

The administrator said his hospital had only days left of crucial medicines, such as painkillers, and the only doctors remaining were unqualified to treat many of the vicious wounds caused by modern warfare.

"The only doctors left are unqualified to carry out surgeries," he said. "What supplies we have left we have no choice but to use. Our equipment needs electricity and petrol for the generators.

"Yesterday we had no surgeons, yet 50 to 100 people were injured and were sent to four hospitals in the city. Five died because there was only one doctor to help them."

He said Russian bombs had begun falling near his hospital on Monday morning, shattering windows and blowing out doors in his building.

"At 10.30am they attacked the M2 hospital's nursing institute - thankfully nobody was injured. Every single person in the hospital is working to get the hospital up and running again; they are fixing the windows and doors; there is no time to be sadness, to rest or mourn the dead.

"Give us electricity and the supplies we need to stay alive," he said. "Wherever you go in the city, you find people who need help - from people dying of starvation to people under debris. I'm not mincing my words. This is the reality we live in."

A medical source in rebel-held Aleppo told AFP that hospitals were also struggling with a major shortage of blood. "Because of this, serious injuries are requiring immediate amputations," the source said.

Al Jazeera journalist Amr al-Halabi, reporting from Aleppo, said that hospitals were overflowing with dead and wounded. 

"Dead people are on the floor of this makeshift hospital," Halabi said. "The situation here is desperate. It looks like Judgement Day."

The reports came as the United States and Britain used an emergency UN security council meeting to accuse Russia of "barbarism" and war crimes in the renewed campaign against Aleppo.

Matthew Rycroft, the UK ambassador to the UN, told an emergency session on Sunday that "bunker-busting bombs, more suited to destroying military installations, are now destroying homes, decimating bomb shelters, crippling, maiming, killing dozens, if not hundreds."

"Aleppo is burning.... It is difficult to deny that Russia is partnering with the Syrian regime to carry out war crimes.”

The US ambassador, Samantha Power, accused Moscow of "barbarism" in Aleppo.

In reply, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday: "We note the overall unacceptable tone and rhetoric of the representatives of the United Kingdom and the United States, which can damage and harm our relations." 

Aleppans told MEE of the devastating effects of what they said were believed to be "bunker buster" bombs dropped by the Russians. 

Yassin Mohammed, a 51-year-old taxi driver, said the explosions felt like “an earthquake”.

“It didn’t just last a few seconds, but was followed by a strong shake and the sounds of rocks falling everywhere,” he said about a bombing on Saturday.

“The sound was terrible, it was as if the ground was shaking or there was an earthquake.

“The Russian and the Israelis and even the Americans allowed the [Assad] regime to seemingly exterminate eastern Aleppo and experimenting with new weapons on us.”

“We have become a weapons testing site and the whole world is watching in silence. No one is doing anything to stop these criminals.”

Dr Mahmoud Moustafa, the director of the Independent Doctors Association in Aleppo, said the world must act now to prevent what was already a catastrophe from getting worse.

"The people of Aleppo are facing a humanitarian crisis while those with the power to act choose failed diplomacy," he said.

"Without action by member states to protect civilians, more vulnerable patients and medical workers will die."

Khandkany, the M2 administrator, said the people of Aleppo were desperate to see the siege end.

"We want them to stop the air strikes and to live in peace. I was born here, lived here and want to continue living in my city in peace. We need to be allowed to live.

"We beg you for our children and our women; we need free passage for us to leave this situation proudly: we are not charity cases."

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition