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After the earthquake, war-torn northwest Syria is struggling to move forward

In northwest Syria, rescue after February’s devastating earthquake Survival is not guaranteed. Ambulances rush to a medical facility in critical condition after 12 years of bombing hospitals and killing doctors.

People awoke on February 6, the night of the first earthquake, which they assumed was an airstrike. They coped Unrelenting attacks since 2011When the war broke out with an uprising to end the Assad family’s 52-year dictatorship.

Bashar al-Assad responded to the uprising by leveling his country with artillery, chemical weapons, and barrel bombs from aircraft. Fourteen million people lost their homes. Half a million died.

The The earthquake added to the suffering. Samer Attar, an American doctor born to Syrian parents, has helped families suffering after war and earthquakes. On his first day in Syria after the earthquake, 23 different surgeries were performed.

“I remember crying myself to sleep the first night. Because it was just, the pain was so overwhelming,” she said.

A hospital built in a cave provided some medical care after the earthquake. It was built there to make it harder to find and harder to hit. The hospital proved its resilience in the earthquake. In northwestern Syria, where 4,500 people died in the earthquake, bodies were piled up in the hallways of cave hospitals.

“I remember a 22-year-old man who got engaged the day before the earthquake and his entire family left the next day,” Attar said. “I remember a 16-year-old girl who was paralyzed from the neck down, and her family left. And two orphaned teenage sisters, both of whom needed multiple surgeries on both legs. Brain injuries on ventilators.”


Zaynab Ali Al-Najib with her children in Syria

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Among the dead were three of the six children of 35-year-old Zainab Ali al-Najib. The surviving children, including 8-year-old Mohammad and 6-year-old Safa, were taken to the cave hospital for treatment. Al-Najib had to leave one of his children in surgery and attend the funeral of another.

“I try to talk to them, but no one answers me,” the heartbroken mother said in Arabic. “The silence is unbearable. I miss seeing them and hearing their laughter. I wish I could meet them just for an hour. I pray that God reunites us as soon as possible. May they miss us as much as we miss them. . I hope. See them soon in heaven.”

The family now lives in a tent where their apartment fell. In northwestern Syria, the earthquake has left 53,000 families with nowhere to go, expanding war-aging camps for the homeless.

Even as rescue workers, doctors and humanitarian aid workers rushed to help al-Najib’s family and others, the airstrikes continued. Sameh Fakhori, a volunteer with the White Helmets rescue organization, said an artillery bombardment hit the area four days after the quake. the team, A force of 3,000 Civil Defense personnelFormed nine years ago to save victims from Assad’s attacks.


Members of the White Helmets carried out rescue work in Syria after a deadly earthquake in February 2023.

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With no prospect of peace, Attar now worries about the necessary follow-up surgeries, physical therapy and prosthetics.

“They will struggle,” he said. “Do they have a future?”

Yet Attar and other members of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) are a US charity Operates 13 hospitals With 2,300 Syrian workers in war zones, keep helping.

“It’s not just about showing up to help. A lot of these missions for me are bearing witness,” he said. “It’s about connection, and solidarity, and support. Just being able to be here, be there, and look at these nurses, look these doctors in the eye, and shake their hands, and be present with them, be on the ground with them. It just lets them know that It’s a small world, they’re not alone and when the world is literally crumbling and crumbling around you, all we’ve got is each other. And that’s part of the reason I keep coming back.”

He has also witnessed moments of hope and progress. At SAMS Hospital in Idlib, Attar repaired the arm and leg of a 12-year-old girl. Since then he has been able to stand with the help of doctors.

That progress means a lot to Atar. He said there were days of helplessness and despair where he wondered what he was doing in Syria.

“You feel like you’re trying to empty the ocean with a small cup because it never ends, and the pain never ends, and it never seems to go away. But it’s those, those brief glimpses that are enough to keep you going. I will go for another month,” he said.

To learn more about the Syrian American Medical Society, click here. To learn more about the White Helmets, click here.

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