A surge in airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Hassakeh and Deir ez-Zor governorates, in northeast Syria, is bringing in an increasing number of patients to the MSF-supported hospital in Hassakeh.
In the 10 days between 4 and 14 June, the hospital received 17 survivors of airstrikes, including 6 children and 3 women. All were inside or near their homes when the airstrikes hit. Before that, and in the five months between January and June, MSF had received a total of 7 airstrike survivors.
One patient, Saif*, said: “First [the bombing] was around the school we were living in, so we ran out to our neighbours’ house. There were several children, and old and handicapped people. I was trying to take the kids outside […] so the plane would see them and realise we were civilians. They attacked us anyway.
“Fourteen people got killed, including four children, three women and two elderly men. Eight people got wounded, but one died on our way to [the hospital].”
Manal*, who arrived at the hospital with her injured sister said: “If you had seen our dead children… One was like cut in half. Another one had the heart out of the body. No legs or arms. Burned corpses. We could not even bury them.”
Many travelled for hours before reaching Hassakeh hospital. The meandering frontlines between armed groups can turn a one-hour journey into a six-hour trek, as people often have to take detours and travel through rural parts of Deir ez-Zor governorate to avoid checkpoints. In parallel, the few remaining and functioning health centres in the region are private and very expensive, or they lack specialised teams.
Manal* and her sister came from al-Dashisha, near the Iraqi border and about two and a half hours from the hospital. “There are no doctors in al-Dashisha. There are only pharmacists that can do dressings and sell drugs,” she said.
Khaled*, who was taking care of his 20-year-old nephew, injured in Al-Bukamal area, said: “After six or seven hours of travel [in a relative’s vehicle], they reached a [private] clinic in Shaeil. The journey was long because we cannot go directly from our village to Buseira (a big town where some private clinics are operating), we have to go through the desert. If roads were open and clear, it would have taken them no more than one hour.”
Olivier Antonin, MSF head of mission in Syria, said: “Unknown to many, northeast Syria is still a battlefield. After a period of relative quiet, airstrikes have recently intensified. And based on what we hear from patients who arrive at our hospital in Hassakeh, we are concerned that the conduct of hostilities might be in violation of the basic rules of war. We hear that civilians and homes are being hit incessantly. It’s outrageous that a strategy supposed to bring peace and stability is causing so much suffering and bloodshed.”
 Real names have been changed upon request of the patients and caretakers, for security reasons.