Syrian government forces have over the last week launched a string of attacks on the Damascus-area town of Douma, leaving hundreds of civilians dead as the rockets continue to rain down on the community.
Hassan Taqi al-Din, a local media activist and Douma resident, witnessed the first large-scale airstrikes last Sunday, which killed more than 110 civilians in a matter of hours. Explaining that markets across the city – including the Sheep Market – were targeted, al-Din recalled: “It started at about noon [on August 16] when four warplanes targeted the popular market, which is packed with vegetable and fruit vendors.”
According to an Arabic-language report published by the Syrian Committee for Human Rights, more than 47 attacks on markets have taken place already in 2015 in areas across the country.
“Nothing remained in the market’s main square,” al-Din added. “It was completely destroyed and filled with dead and injured people.”
There was “blood and body parts all over the place,” he continued. In addition to the deaths, more than 550 people were treated for injuries at a local medical office.
One of the most disturbing moments, he said, was when people began to rummage through the blood-spattered market for any food left behind in order to feed their families.
A local medical center, which asked to remain unnamed for fear of becoming a target in future government attacks, says that many of the wounded had to be turned away or transferred to rebel-controlled medical facilities in the nearby eastern Ghouta due to a lack of space and resources in Douma’s hospitals and clinics.
Newly appointed United Nations humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien decried the attacks as showing “total disrespect for civilian life in this conflict.” The following day, on August 10, government forces continued to bomb the area.
On August 23, government forces continued attacks on the area. At least 34 civilians, including a dozen children, were killed during these attacks, bringing the toll for the week to more than 200 dead and hundreds more – mostly women and children – injured, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“I went to the medical center and was stunned by the number of injured people there,” al-Din said. “Those who were to be transferred to the cemetery were lined up in rows. The situation is beyond tragic.”
Hamza, a 25-year-old paramedic, was on call the night of the first attack last Sunday. “The regime targeted medical centers also, with the goal of distracting paramedics,” he told Syria Deeply. “There were only nine paramedics at the center that night, so it was impossible to aid all the injured and painful because people looked at us like we were their only savior.”
“We were rendered helpless by all of these cases due to lack of medical resources, and a lot of them died due to the absence of a specialist and the lack of medical equipment,” Hamza added. “Some of the wounded needed serum saline for blood pressure, but we used that for diabetes, with the knowledge that this does not work, but it’s all we had. We didn’t know where to begin.”
In July alone, the government launched more than 6,600 airstrikes across Syria, the Observatory reported on August 1. In that same period, more than 3,600 barrel bombs were dropped by government helicopters, targeting 13 of the country’s 14 provinces.
In more than four years of fighting between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebel forces, more than 240,000 people have died. Another 4 million have become refugees outside the borders of their homeland and more than 7.6 million have been internally displaced.
Hamza recalled one of the victims he treated. “He was asking his friend who died in his family,” he said. “As he was getting stitches in his skull, his friend told him that his father and brother were both killed. He screamed and began to cry. ‘I lost my father, my anchor,’ he yelled.”
On Friday, Douma town council issued a statement declaring the town a “disaster zone” and calling on the world to intervene and halt the government attacks.
“As a result of the humanitarian catastrophe, we in the local council for the city of Douma declare it a disaster area according to international, humanitarian and U.N. standards,” the statement reads.
The statement continued by calling on the U.N. to pressure the Assad government to cease its attacks on Douma and to allow the International Committee for the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups into the besieged town in order to assist local residents.
Top photo: The Syrian government has launched widespread airstrikes on Douma, a Damascus-area town, since last Sunday. More than 200 civilians have been killed so far. (Photo: Associated Press)