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Life and death at the Dar Al Shifa hospital on Aleppo’s front line | Arab Spring: 10 years on

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Ten years ago, the Arab Spring erupted across the Middle East and North Africa. In Syria, months of mass protests against Bashar al-Assad’s government in 2011 led to a government crackdown, widespread unrest and years of civil war.

In 2012, documentary photographer Narciso Contreras spent months in Aleppo documenting the war. Here he tells the story of five months in a hospital at the heart of the rebellion.

It was November 21, 2012, when Bashar al-Assad’s forces targeted the Dar Al Shifa hospital in Aleppo with a missile strike. I had just returned from Aleppo to my home base in the Turkish border city of Antakya. Since July, I had been crossing to and fro into northern Syria to document the uprising and its aftermath at the medical unit. Now, I watched the news in shock, as the cameras moved steadily across the dimensions of the catastrophe.

The eastern flank of the hospital had been reduced to rubble; 25 people had been killed, among them four members of the volunteer medical staff, the rest a grim mix of civilians and combatants.

In the news footage, thick smoke filled the air. Human silhouettes – powder-white from the wreckage – wandered around in a daze, their hands over their mouths to stop them from breathing in the dust. I recognised some faces among the survivors: people in medical uniforms who seemed to be in shock, and other field personnel who cried out for those who were missing. Meanwhile, men in camouflage fatigues with weapons removed debris as they searched for their comrades-in-arms, while others sat hopelessly amidst the rubble, wiping the tears streaming down their faces.

Once a barely-known private clinic owned by a businessman loyal to Bashar al-Assad, Dar Al Shifa was taken over by volunteer doctors, nurses and aides when the war entered Aleppo city in July 2012. It soon became a medical hub for anyone needing care.

A toddler reacts, covering his ears, as he watches another child crying while being treated in the emergency ward of the Dar Al Shifa hospital in Aleppo on September 25, 2012 [Narciso Contreras]

The team worked in a frenzy, day and night, helping the wounded, which very often included children and civilian victims of attacks, many with shrapnel in their bodies, who were brought in screaming in pain. They were treated by the medics who also tended to combatants riddled with gaping wounds from artillery and gunfire.

The volunteers did all they could to help those who needed it, aware that they were risking their lives but committed to their oath to treat all injured people regardless of who they were. And in those months, the hospital became a symbol of both humaneness and civilian resistance.

July

In the months following the July 2012 start of the Battle of Aleppo – an armed rebel offensive against Assad’s forces – troops of gunmen took over the eastern working-class neighbourhoods of the city: Hellok, Bustan al-Pasha, Shik Khider, Sakhour, Karm al-Myassar and Karm al-Jazmati. These were populated civilian areas surrounding the enclave where the hospital was located, all of them under continuous shelling and bombardments from the Syrian army.

Just 500 metres (540 yards) from the ravaged al-Mushatieh, a front line under heavy shelling, Dar Al Shifa continued providing emergency services despite the danger. All in all, in those months of fighting from July to late November, a barrage of shells targeted the hospital more than 20 times, including seven direct hits. The upper floors were destroyed, while the bottom three stories remained usable; two of them serving as dormitories for the staff, although littered with debris and stained with blood.

A pile of shoes covered in blood from wounded or dead residents lies at the entrance of the hospital’s emergency ward on November 1, 2012 [Narciso Contreras]

The hospital became one of the main ports for the wounded in the rebel-controlled neighbourhoods of the city. It became routine that, after a burst of gunfire or a loud bomb blast thundered across the city, a clatter of car horns and shouts for “help” would follow. This would announce the waves of dead and wounded who would then flow into the ICU, and pandemonium would be unleashed.

Those who were badly wounded were wheeled hastily into the three-bed emergency ward for treatment, while the powder-whitened faces of other survivors cried out for help and traumatised children and youth arrived in shock.

In minutes, the ground floor of the unit would be filled with wounded men in their final moments – many with severed limbs on the floor beside them, as they made loud declarations of faith mixed with heart-wrenching despair. Blood was everywhere. Because the hospital had no morgue, the dead bodies would be piled in a building next door or left on the sidewalk, waiting to be claimed by relatives.

August

One day in mid-August, I arrived at the hospital just as rounds of shells landed in the vicinity.

Word spread quickly – a queue of people waiting at a nearby bakery had been hit by a mortar. Minutes later, dozens of civilians rushed into the clinic. Medical staff frantically tried to help. But there was not enough space, so the wounded were left scattered on the floor next to the bodies of the dead.

The mother of a Syrian girl cries out after the death of her child in the emergency ward of Dar Al Shifa, September 4, 2012 [Narciso Contreras]

There were too many children injured that day. I took the hand of a teenager. He had a hole in his chest made by shrapnel. His breath was laboured, his eyes fixed and nearly lifeless, staring at the emptiness in front of him. Then his hand lost its strength, his grip let go of mine, and he lost consciousness.

In front of me, near the entrance, another child wept on the floor. Terrified, his foot bleeding from a shrapnel wound, he kept holding tight onto a coin in his hand. He had been standing in the queue to buy bread when the mortar hit the bakery. When his mother came to find him he opened his hand, giving back the coin. “Please mama, don’t send me out for bread again,” he told her, “I don’t want to go and buy bread any more.”

September

One day in early September, I noticed two seemingly lost yet unafraid children wandering among the wounded and the puddles of blood in the hospital. They were Omar, 4, and Rashed, two-and-a-half. They crossed the lobby undeterred when a wounded fighter was brought in after being shot in the head by an enemy sniper.

Calling after them was Fatimah, a woman wearing a black coat and a niqab. She was their mother and the wife of Dr Osman Aljash, 30, one of the doctors working tirelessly to help. Dr Osman got to work treating the wounded fighter, but there was severe brain damage. As the man slipped into a coma, tears streamed down his cheeks. Dr Osman gave him first aid but soon had to declare him dead.

The children meanwhile continued playing among the patients as if they were at a playground.

Omar, a toddler living in the Dar Al Shifa hospital, reacts to blood traces on the floor as he walks along a corridor, on September 26, 2012 [Narciso Contreras]

“They are used to this,” Dr Osman said, taking Rashed into his arms. “I have a family apartment, but there is no such thing as a safe place to stay in the city. Even more, because people are in need of medical care, I decided to stay close – in the hospital. No matter the danger, I’m meant to help,” he explained.

“I won’t be the first one to die, and shall not be the last. I’ll stay till the end,” he said. “My wife, Fatimah, told me: ‘We live together or we die together,’ so she brought our children and now we all live here in Dar Al Shifa.”

Fatimah’s resolve inspired me to stay and I moved into the hospital with Dr Osman and his family for a week that September. I observed the couple and their relentless determination to help those in need, in spite of having to put themselves and their children’s lives at risk. The third floor of the hospital had become an area for the family to live in. There, Fatimah rustled up a kitchen and rigged together a cosy bedroom in one of the semi-deserted wards.

On those days, she would split her time between running after the children as they played amid the debris and assisting in the hospital. When the new wounded arrived, Dr Osman would try to save them while Fatimah rushed to the lobby to help the nurses mop up puddles of blood – Omar and Rashed standing in a corner staring at their mother’s frantic movement. Later, Rashed would copy her mother’s actions, picking up a broom and playing clean-up at the back door next to two fighters covered in white powder who had survived an attack.

Fatimah, Dr Osman’s wife, poses for a photo with her children, Rashed, left, and Omar, right, at Dar Al Shifa in September 2012 [Narciso Contreras]

One evening, a playful moment was suddenly halted by a round of loud blasts. Omar was sitting at the front desk in the lobby. Fatimah grabbed him by the hand, picking Rashed up with her other arm, and pulling them both towards the staircase. Dr Osman called for calm but the medical staff were frightened. The hospital was under attack. A second blast hit the building’s upper floors. A terrified Rashed threw his arms around Fatimah’s neck, while Omar stood staring at her, immobilised. Two more blasts sounded out, but they thankfully failed to hit the hospital, landing nearby. The panic started to fade when everyone realised they were safe. No wounded arrived that evening.

October

On a hot and sunny afternoon in late October, the boom of mortar explosions echoed through the neighbourhood. As always, the car horns announced a fresh wave of wounded civilians, some of them children. The blast had once again hit a crowd of people queueing for bread.

Minutes later, pick-up trucks carrying the badly wounded streamed down the street. Hastily, one after another, they stopped in front of the hospital to unload both the living and the dead.

On the back of one truck was a wagonload of charred, still smoking, flesh: among the smashed human remains, bodies with ripped clothes and peeled-off skin, were the severed limbs of two of the dead that seemed intact. The rest, after being examined by gunmen and hospital volunteers, was set aside on the street and covered.

Another truck unloaded a shocked man wearing a white robe that was cut off where his left leg had been severed at the thigh. Next to him, facing downwards, was the dead body of a child.

“There is one alive!” someone screamed, as he helped carry another middle-aged man with a shrapnel wound on his right calf. After him, the dead body of a teenager was dragged out of the truck, leaving a trail of blood from his back. Next, a panic-stricken young woman arrived with several shrapnel wounds to her head and right leg. She was wheeled into the hospital screaming in pain. And last in the line, coming down the street, a group of men carried an injured civilian by his clothes, rushing to get him to the hospital.

A Syrian man wheels a severely injured patient to the hospital for treatment after an artillery shell landed near a bakery in Aleppo, on October 23, 2012 [Narciso Contreras]

The field personnel seemed flustered; doctors, nurses and aides all rushed to clean up the lobby and triage patients, ordering non-essential people to leave. But one nurse, Bushra, 27, found time for her usual welcoming, friendly gesture, as she helped comfort all those around her with humble dedication. She had studied nursing and decided to join the hospital as a volunteer when the war started. Always around with a smile on her face, and ready to help others, she assisted the doctors and patients in the ICU and was also there to help babysit Rashed and Omar whenever she had a break.

As the months of war went on, Bushra married a fellow volunteer – one of the aides who guarded the front desk in the lobby. I heard it was a simple wedding, but a hearty celebration at the start of November, a few days before I left Aleppo for Antakya.

Two weeks after the wedding on November 21, an air raid struck Dar Al Shifa, and Bushra was among those killed. Her body was recovered from the rubble by her new husband.

Dr Osman and his family made it through the attack, having left the hospital one week before it was bombed. They fled Syria and now live as refugees somewhere in Europe.

November

Eight days after the November attack on the hospital, on a cold and dry evening, I entered Aleppo once again. The cab stopped on a busy, but darkened street in front of the shattered hospital building that used to be the only fully-lit ground floor we could see for blocks.

I stood in the cold, flicking through my memories, while my restless finger circled my camera’s shutter button. I wanted to capture a memorial photo, but the bodies had already been removed and bulldozers had already cleared the rubble away. The tragedy and drama of what had happened were now gone; only shadows remained.

A few locals walked by, unfazed, accustomed as they now were to tragedy. Around us, the last blue light of the day streamed down from the sky above. Because of the power cuts, the streets were turning dark. Only sparks of yellow flashed by as taxi cabs headed to the border.

I crossed to the opposite building and went up the staircase to take my shot. Only one was possible: the dramatic and apocalyptic scene of a busy street in a war-torn city bathed under the cold blue light of a winter’s evening, whose ruins fostered the last of the civilians living there.

That scene scared me like the very first time I entered Aleppo back in August 2012, as a warplane bombed the front line I was headed towards. Months later, this scene took me back to that night, as I recalled the feeling of the bombs thundering in the air, and I felt fear once more.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Eddie Mutwe, Nubian Li Released on Bail

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The General Court Martial in Makindye has on Monday released on bail the remaining members of the National Unity Platform who have been on remand since December last year.

The released include Bobi Wine bodyguard Eddie Mutwe,Singer Nubian Li and Producer Dan Magic.

The released are facing charges related to possession of fire arms.

The group had made several attempts at bail but kept getting stonewalled by government prosecution, on different grounds.

In the last court sitting in which teh army court released 17 of the 35 NUP supporters, Chairman Gen Court Martial sent back Eddie Mutwe and his group on remand, on grounds that prosecution was still examining their affidavits.

The group was arrested on December 30th 2020 in Kalangala district, while on the campaign trail with their candidate Robert Kyagulanyi.

“All our comrades who were arrested last year from Kalangala have been released on bail. These have spent six months while under detention for no crime whatsoever. Thanks to our legal team and everyone who has worked tirelessly to ensure these comrades regain their freedom,” NUP said in a statement.

This story is being updated

The post Eddie Mutwe, Nubian Li Released on Bail first appeared on ChimpReports.



Source – chimpreports.com

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Kanungu DHO Dr Sebudde Dies of Covid19

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Dr Stephen Ssebudde the Kanungu District Health Officer has succumbed to COVID-19.

Dr Ssebudde passed away on Sunday evening at Entebbe hospital where he has been receiving treatment for Covid19 after he started feeling unwell early this week.

News of his death was confirmed by a family who told this reporter that Ssebudde died at around 6Pm after three days of admission in Entebbe Hospital.

“Kanungu District Health Officer Dr Ssebudde died at around 6pm today after 3 days of admission in Entebbe Hospital. As per family, RIP” message from a family member reads.

Hajji Shaffiq Ssekandi the Kanungu Resident District Commissioner who also heads the District COVID-19 taskforce described Ssebudde’s death as a big blow to the district health department since he has been working selflessly to ensure that all people in the community are equally served when it comes to health.

His death comes at a time when the country has already registered cumulative confirmed covid19 cases of 61,977 representing a test positivity rate of 18.7%.

The country has 884 Active cases on admission, 48,160 Cumulative recoveries, and 428 total deaths.

According to Ministerial statistics, 777,895 Persons have so far been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The post Kanungu DHO Dr Sebudde Dies of Covid19 first appeared on ChimpReports.



Source – chimpreports.com

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Iran says it has broad agreement with the US on lifting sanctions | Boycott Divest and Sanctions News

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The landmark accord has been delayed because there are some sticking points, but not an impasse, Iran said.

By Bloomberg

Iran said it has reached a broad agreement with the U.S. over the lifting of sanctions on its industrial sectors, including energy, but warned there was “very little time left” for world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal.

Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, didn’t give more detail on the potential easing of trade restrictions, which have all but prevented the Islamic Republic from exporting oil and battered its economy. The landmark accord was being delayed because there are still sticking points, he told reporters in Tehran on Monday.

Oil markets are closely watching the negotiations, which are taking place in Vienna, for any clues as to when the OPEC member will be able to resume crude sales and how quickly Washington will allow it to ramp up production.

“Some minute technical, political, legal and practical issues remain,” Khatibzadeh said. “No task was impossible for negotiators” and there’s no impasse, he said.

Brent crude rose 1% to $73.43 a barrel at 8:50 a.m. in London, extending its gain this year to 42%. Traders have pushed back their estimates for Iran’s oil comeback as the talks drag on.

World powers are trying to revive the 2015 agreement that the U.S. abandoned three years ago. It restricted Tehran’s atomic activities in return for sanctions relief.

On Saturday, Iran’s lead envoy in Vienna, Abbas Araghchi, said a deal was unlikely before presidential elections in his country this Friday.

President Hassan Rouhani — who negotiated the original deal in 2015 — is due to leave office in August after serving two terms. He is widely expected to be replaced by Ebrahim Raisi, a cleric generally seen as hostile to engaging with the U.S.

Still, a government spokesman said last week that the decision to try to resuscitate the accord was made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and won’t be affected by Rouhani’s departure.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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