Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
What next on Iran’s nuclear deal: follow the news here
A Syrian family from Marea wait at the Bab Al Salameh border crossing with hopes of entering a Turkish refugee camp. Doctors cross the border into Syria several times a month to take in medical supplies and bring out the wounded.
A Syrian family from Marea wait at the Bab Al Salameh border crossing with hopes of entering a Turkish refugee camp. Doctors cross the border into Syria several times a month to take in medical supplies and bring out the wounded.

Syria's wounded saved by rebel doctors without frontiers

Brave volunteer medics endure routine gunfire as they shuttle casualties from Syria's war to the border area of Turkey.

ONCUPINAR, Turkey // It is a different kind of house call. The doctor has been shuttling between Turkey and Syria the past five months, across badland international borders in nondescript civilian vehicles with Syrian licence plates.

"Being shot at is routine," Dr Aymen Rayez said matter-of-factly.

"They shoot at everything that moves," he added, talking about Syrian government troops.

When Dr Rayez hears the sound of low-flying government aircraft, he hides his car under olive trees. If there are no problems, he can be in Aleppo and back in a few hours.

He is one of about 10 doctors who make the trip back several times a month to rebel strongholds in Syria from this Turkish refugee camp of 12,000 that sits on the border of the two countries.

He says doctors have made it their mission to bring in medical supplies and to bring out the wounded - and sometimes the dead - regardless of the danger.

"Only yesterday, we had a man with a bullet to his stomach and one with a shot to the head, both hit by snipers in Aleppo," Dr Rayez said this week.

"One of the men died, but the other one is in intensive care in a Turkish hospital." Dr Rayez is 30, slightly built. He worked in an Aleppo-area hospital before fleeing the violence five months ago.

Dr Rayez said he is one cog in an unofficial support network of activists that lend support to the rebellion against the Bashar Al Assad government in the bloody 17-month-old conflict.

"Everybody has a role to play, whether he is a doctor, a fighter or a cook," he said, describing his work as part of a "jihad", or holy struggle, against Mr Al Assad.

He estimated that hundreds of activists, with various missions, were making the same journey between Turkey and Syria.

Missions by Dr Rayez and the other physicians are triggered by calls from medics in makeshift rebel hospitals in Syria. To avoid Syrian government efforts to shut down communication systems, the network uses a Turkish mobile phone grid, which extends about 25 kilometres into Syria.

Once the wounded are collected, they are taken back to Turkey where they are transported to the state hospital in nearby Kilis, the capital of the border province where Oncupinar lies, or to hospitals in Gaziantep, about 60km further to the north.

Dr Rayez said hundreds of mostly Sunni Muslim rebel fighters had been brought out of Syria that way.

Some of the wounded are eager to get straight back into Syria.

Ussama Gapsun, 34, from the Aleppo area and a butcher by trade, limped to join some friends for a cigarette.

"I will go back as soon as possible and rejoin the fight, if they need me," he said.

Dr Rayez said the doctors in Oncupinar were not alone. A similar team of Syrian doctors was active from another Turkish refugee camp in Hatay province, to the south-west of Oncupinar.

The two groups of doctors were in close contact and sometimes coordinated missions. But he said Turkish hospitals were not prepared for the onslaught of war wounded.

He did not want that remark to sound like he was criticising Turkish efforts to help the refugees or the wounded from Syria.

"Turkey is helping, but the Europeans and the Arabs could do much more. They could at least enforce a no-fly zone," he said.

"Russia and Iran provide help for Al Assad, but no one helps the opposition."

The doctor dismissed angrily concerns in the international community that a sectarian conflict could break out in Syria.

"There is no war of religion," he said. "Of course, we also help Alawites," members of a Muslim minority in Syria that includes much of the country's ruling elite. "I have even treated wounded government soldiers."

tseibert@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greeted by university students as he leaves Sistan University in Sistan and Baluchestan’s provincial capital of Zahedan on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

In Iran’s most troubled province, Rouhani hears pleas for change

Hassan Rounani aims to connect with residents of far-flung Sistan and Baluchestan province.

 Prince Bandar bin Sultan in Riyadh on March 3, 2007. Hassan Ammar / AFP Photo

Saudi Prince Bandar promised a victory he could not deliver

Saudi Arabia's controversial intelligence chief stepped down this week after rumours that his policies on Syria had fallen out of favour.

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish spiritual leader Fethullah Gulen. AFP Photo

The inner workings of Gulen’s ‘parallel state’

Fethullah Gulen's followers are accused of trying to push Turkey's prime minister from power.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National