Last Aleppo doctors plead with Obama for more help: What is the US doing?

Syria's largest city is under siege. Fifteen of the city's remaining handful of doctors wrote to President Obama this week, asking for help in the humanitarian crisis. 

Alexander Kots/Komsomolskaya Pravda/AP/File
In this February photo, civilians walk with containers for fuel and water in Aleppo, Syria. An open letter from 15 of the last 35 doctors working in Aleppo says that the Russian-backed Syrian government is deliberately bombing hospitals, which is a war crime.

Aleppo, Syria, has been besieged, battered, and starved for months. This week, 15 of the remaining 35 doctors in the city are pleading for help.

They wrote to President Obama, asking him to end the bombings by the Russian-backed Syrian air force.

“We do not need tears or sympathy or even prayers, we need action,” wrote the doctors. 

Unless a permanent lifeline to Aleppo is opened it will be only a matter of time until we are again surrounded by regime troops, hunger takes hold and hospitals’ supplies run completely dry. Death has seemed increasingly inescapable. We do not need to tell you that the systematic targeting of hospitals by Syrian regime and Russian warplanes is a war crime. We do not need to tell you that they are committing atrocities in Aleppo.  

The Assad regime closed off road access to Aleppo in mid-July, The Christian Science Monitor’s David Iaconangelo reported last month. Not only is the city mostly cut off from supplies, but the regime is also targeting rebel hospitals and medics.

The beleagured country has been looking for respite for years from barrel bombing that has plagued its people and destroyed its buildings and infrastructure. Yet although humanitarian peace is constantly a subject of discussion, the few gasps of fresh air that they bring to a drowning populace is not enough, Syrians say.

Fifteen of Aleppo’s health centers were attacked in July alone. Only 35 doctors remain in the city, where men, women, and children are injured in airstrikes, shelling, and gas attacks by the Syrian government.

Many doctors say that patients, including children, are dying because there is no way to obtain necessary medical supplies. The rate at which hospitals are being bombed, with one facility attacked every 17 hours, also prevents patients from receiving appropriate medical care.

"At this rate, our medical services in Aleppo could be completely destroyed in a month, leaving 300,000 people to die," the doctors wrote.

Continued US inaction to protect the civilians of Syria means that our plight is being willfully tolerated by those in the international corridors of power. The burden of responsibility for the crimes of the Syrian government and its Russian ally must therefore be shared by those, including the United States, who allow them to continue.

US officials have expressed concerned about Aleppo. Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, has repeatedly requested 48-hour ceasefires. Stephen O’Brian, the UN humanitarian chief, has also expressed concerns that shorter ceasefires are not enough to meet the need of thousands of Aleppo residents.

On Monday, UN resident coordinator for Syria Yacoub El Hillo and regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis Kevin Kennedy issued their own letter regarding Aleppo’s plight.

"Water available through wells and tanks in Aleppo is not nearly enough to sustain the needs of the population,” they wrote. “The UN is extremely concerned that the consequences will be dire for millions of civilians if the electricity and water networks are not immediately repaired."

"At a minimum, the UN requires a full-fledged ceasefire or weekly 48-hour humanitarian pauses to reach the millions of people in need throughout Aleppo,” they continued, “and replenish the food and medicine stocks, which are running dangerously low."

The United States convened an informal Security Council meeting on Monday, in which experts painted a vivid picture of humanitarian failures in Syria.

"We don't need condemnations, prayers or pointing fingers, we had enough of that. I ask you to meet the people of Aleppo and see them as humans,” said Syrian-American doctor Zaher Sahloul.

A spokesperson for the Syrian Civil Defense, a neutral humanitarian group, said by video that what is happening in Aleppo affects 350,000 people, giving it the potential to be remembered in history of one of the largest humanitarian crises of our day.

On Wednesday, Russia offered to suspend airstrikes for three hours a day, in order to allow humanitarian convoys to pass into the city. Critics like Ms. Power say that it is not enough, and ask that Russia refrain from backing the bombings that cause such problems.

In response, Russia cautioned the international community, and particularly the US, against playing politics.

"We urge our colleagues to refrain from their usual deceit and admit that the main cause of all the humanitarian problems in Syria is not the counter-terrorist actions by the legitimate government in Syria to bring order against the external interference in intra-Syria affairs in 2011 which sought to topple legitimate authorities and provide weapons to the opposition," Russia's deputy ambassador Vladimir Safrankov said, according to the Associated Press.

"Because before then the humanitarian situation in Syria was not a cause of concern to anyone."

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