Eastern Ghouta's 15-year-old 'war reporter'

Muhammed Najem is a 15-year-old boy in Eastern Ghouta, Syria. He talks about life in the besieged town; and how he's fighting a media blackout with selfies.

Posted: Feb 22, 2018 11:00 AM
Updated: Feb 22, 2018 11:03 AM

The devastation wrought in Eastern Ghouta by a relentless bombardment by the Syrian regime has forced doctors to use expired drugs and scrabble for water as the number of dead reached 300 in three days, medics and activists said.

At least 260 people were killed and 500 injured in the rebel held-enclave of Eastern Ghouta between Monday and Tuesday evening, the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) said Wednesday. The Damascus Media Center monitoring group told CNN another 45 deaths had been reported in Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday.

The intensified bombardment in recent weeks of Eastern Ghouta, an area outside Damascus that has been besieged by the regime of Bashar al-Assad for years, has drawn international condemnation. Amnesty International said "flagrant war crimes" were being committed on an "epic scale" there, and the UN children's agency UNICEF published a symbolic blank statement, saying in a footnote there were "no words" to describe the suffering of children.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described it as "hell on earth."

The latest onslaught has prompted warnings that the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which is backed by the Russian military, is preparing to crush the rebel-held enclave.

Nearly 400,000 people are trapped in Eastern Ghouta, many of them in desperate need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations. Once described as the "breadbasket" for Damascus, it is the same area that was the target of an alleged chemical attack in 2013, which activists say killed about 1,400 people.

In recent days, families have retreated to makeshift underground shelters with limited food and water as they try to shelter from the intense bombardment.

Options are increasingly limited for those injured as the bombs, rockets and shells rain down. Twenty medical facilities have been targeted since Monday, according to tweets from SAMS, some of them with crude barrel bombs. Of those facilities, four were completely destroyed and two have temporarily suspended their activities. SAMS lost three of its health workers in the strikes, it said.

A volunteer medical worker in Eastern Ghouta, who gave an assumed name, Adam Aslan, fearing retribution by regime forces, told CNN he worked in Dar al-Shifa field hospital, one of the 13 facilities hit since Sunday.

He described a desperate situation where doctors were using expired drugs, including anesthetics, because they had no other option. Equipment in operating theaters and intensive care units is out of date and there are only about 105 doctors to care for all those trapped in Eastern Ghouta, he said.

Aslan, who was in his last year of high school when the civil war began nearly seven years ago, has been volunteering as a medical worker for the past six years.

Asked about basic services and goods, Aslan said: "Water and electricity that we used to get from the Syrian side have not seen it in seven years. If we are lucky, we get water from natural aquifers and other water wells. As for electricity, we depend on generators and fuel." These are now almost impossible to find, he added.

"These are the worst days of our lives in Ghouta," Eastern Ghouta hospital director and pediatrician Amani Ballour told CNN on Tuesday.

"We in Ghouta have been getting hit by airstrikes for more than five years and this is not new to us ... but we have never seen anything like this escalation."

Rebels fire into Damascus

The Syrian regime, which is backed by the Russian military, says it is targeting terrorist groups in Eastern Ghouta.

Rebels have responded by firing into Damascus. Syrian state news agency SANA said two people were injured on Wednesday when armed groups fired two mortar shells on Bab al-Salam neighborhood in Old Damascus.

At least 13 people were killed and 77 others were wounded a day earlier when 114 rockets and mortar rounds landed on several neighborhoods in Damascus. The Syrian army responded to those attacks with "precise strikes," SANA said, destroying rocket launchers and fortified positions used by the armed groups.

Eastern Ghouta is meant to be one of the so-called "de-escalation zones" agreed to in a deal struck by Russia, Turkey and Iran last year. In theory, such zones, also referred to as nonconflict or safe zones, are meant to be areas where civilians can live without being targeted by any party in Syria's war.

Nonetheless, since November, hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured in airstrikes and shelling across the country, according to the United Nations.

The International committee of the Red Cross called for "restraint and access to the wounded" in Eastern Ghouta.

"The fighting appears likely to cause much more suffering in the days and weeks ahead, and our teams need to be allowed to enter Eastern Ghouta to aid the wounded," said Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC delegation in Syria.

There are not enough medical supplies to cope with the number of injured, the ICRC said, especially after reported hits on medical facilities.

"Wounded victims are dying only because they cannot be treated in time. In some areas of Ghouta, entire families have no safe place to go," Gasser said. "On the other side of the frontline, people in Damascus are in constant fear that their children will be hit by falling mortars. This is madness and it has to stop. Civilians must not be targeted."

A UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy arrived in Eastern Ghouta last Wednesday. It was the first convoy to enter the area since November, Reuters reported.

UN chief urges halt to war in 'hell on earth'

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for an immediate halt to hostilities in Eastern Ghouta, where he said people were living in "hell on earth."

"My appeal to all those involved Is for an immediate suspension of all war activities in Eastern Ghouta, allowing for humanitarian aid to reach all those in need," Guterres said, adding, "I believe Eastern Ghouta cannot wait. "

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday that the United States was "deeply concerned" by worsening violence in Eastern Ghouta, which has targeted hospitals and civilian infrastructure.

Nauert criticized the Assad regime, as well as its backers in Moscow. Russia, she said, "must end its support for the Assad regime and its allies," and shares responsibility for the ongoing violence.

UK Prime Minster Theresa May said that she was "appalled" by the escalation of airstrikes in Eastern Ghouta and concerned by reports of "ongoing deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructures."

Calling for the violence to cease, she said: "It's not just about the Syrian government, it's about the backers of the Syrian government as well, and we call on all their backers, including Russia, to ensure that this violence stops and that those people who are in need of help are given that help."

Asked by reporters about claims that Russia is partially to blame for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Eastern Ghouta, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov referred any questions to the Russian Defense Ministry.

"These are unsubstantiated accusations. It is unclear what they are based on, no specific information was given, and this is how we assess such accusations [based on specific information]," Peskov said. "We do not agree with these accusations."

Terre Haute
Clear
88° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 89°
Robinson
Broken Clouds
86° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 89°
Indianapolis
Broken Clouds
88° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 89°
Rockville
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 86°
Casey
Scattered Clouds
88° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 90°
Brazil
Clear
88° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 89°
Marshall
Clear
88° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 89°
Hot Holiday Weekend
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 144013

Reported Deaths: 6951
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook909114581
Lake9752418
DuPage9083472
Kane7733271
Will6744320
Winnebago304695
McHenry206197
St. Clair1906136
Kankakee128565
Kendall96320
Madison94769
Rock Island94729
Champaign88012
Boone59521
DeKalb55818
Peoria49928
Sangamon43132
Jackson33219
Randolph2877
Stephenson2745
McLean26113
Ogle2614
Clinton23717
Macon23122
LaSalle21917
Union19119
Whiteside19115
Coles17017
Grundy1674
Iroquois1575
Warren1380
Tazewell1378
Knox1320
Cass1302
Morgan1283
Monroe12713
Williamson1204
Jefferson10717
McDonough10115
Lee972
Adams931
Henry881
Pulaski760
Marion660
Vermilion662
Perry541
Douglas520
Macoupin523
Unassigned500
Jasper467
Livingston452
Jo Daviess441
Montgomery441
Christian434
Jersey351
Ford331
Woodford332
Bureau292
Menard250
Fayette233
Alexander220
Franklin220
Mason220
Wabash220
Carroll212
Johnson200
Mercer200
Piatt200
Washington200
Hancock191
Crawford180
Moultrie180
Shelby181
Fulton150
Logan150
Clark140
Wayne141
Bond131
Massac130
Schuyler130
Cumberland120
Effingham121
Brown100
Edgar100
Greene90
Saline90
Henderson80
Marshall80
Lawrence70
De Witt60
Hamilton50
White50
Richland40
Stark30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Pike20
Calhoun10
Hardin10
Out of IL10
Pope10
Putnam10
Scott00

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 46387

Reported Deaths: 2662
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11434680
Lake4985241
Elkhart313343
Allen2695117
St. Joseph185766
Cass16369
Hamilton1502100
Hendricks1371100
Johnson1244118
Porter69037
Tippecanoe6598
Madison64363
Clark62744
Bartholomew58044
Howard55057
LaPorte54125
Kosciusko5003
LaGrange4646
Jackson4583
Vanderburgh4576
Noble45128
Delaware42949
Boone42743
Hancock42535
Marshall4183
Shelby41825
Floyd37044
Morgan32331
Montgomery29020
Grant28726
Clinton2812
Monroe26328
Dubois2616
White25910
Decatur24732
Henry23615
Lawrence23624
Vigo2278
Harrison20822
Warrick20729
Dearborn20622
Greene18432
Miami1802
Jennings16911
Putnam1658
DeKalb1594
Scott1557
Daviess13916
Orange13323
Wayne1296
Franklin1248
Steuben1242
Perry1239
Ripley1148
Jasper1132
Carroll1092
Wabash1092
Fayette967
Newton9610
Whitley814
Randolph774
Starke773
Huntington702
Wells681
Jay670
Fulton661
Jefferson661
Washington651
Knox630
Pulaski621
Clay594
Rush563
Benton480
Adams471
Gibson462
Owen451
Sullivan441
Brown381
Blackford372
Posey360
Spencer331
Tipton301
Crawford290
Fountain292
Switzerland260
Martin220
Parke220
Ohio140
Warren141
Union130
Vermillion130
Pike80
Unassigned0193