Children targeted by Assad's army, say survivors


One doctor claims the slaughter has sparked a trade in body organs, writes MARKUS AHONENin Tripoli

“THE ARMY came and took people in the rooms. Nineteen people were put into a room the size of a small cafe. Then they were shot. I saw it. Among them were four of my family members.”

The speaker is Mohammad Ghantawi. The name is not his real one. Disclosing that could cause trouble to his family back in Syria.

He lists a number of people who were close to him: Vikrom Methem, Walid Methem, Hamon Methem and Ismail Kerdi. They have all been killed in Homs by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s troops.

According to eye witness accounts from Syrians who have fled their country for the safety of neighbouring Lebanon, Assad’s army actions are both targeted and random.

“Government troops went from house to house. Shot in the face. Everyone. Anyone. It didn’t make any difference if the ones inside were men, women or children. Very many women were violated.”

Ghantawi is not the only one to tell what Assad’s troops are doing in Syria. Sometimes their method has been to go into houses after rocket attacks. Often, instead of shooting the wounded, they have cut the throats of people inside.

Those surviving the killings have been arrested and stuck into small cells with vast numbers of other people without drinking water for days, the only source of water being from the toilet in the cell.

Some of the wounded Syrians I interviewed in Lebanon have been evacuated from the border to governmental hospitals in the cities. One hospital outside Tripoli, already inhabited mainly by Syrians, receives 10 to 14 additional wounded Syrians every day.

Most of them are civilians, like Ghantawi’s brother, both of whose legs are amputated. Ghantawi’s wife and daughter are safe in Sham in Syria. There is no knowledge of his parents’ well-being. The phone and internet lines in Homs are cut.

Nothing is known either about Saria Sakka’s family. This nine-year-old boy is alone in the hospital. He has a bandage around his head. A rocket hit his home while he was sleeping. He has also suffered mentally. The staff in the hospital are trying to guide him slowly back to taking an interest in activities such as getting back to swimming, and perhaps some day pursuing his dream of becoming a pilot.

Another child who has also been disturbed by what she witnessed is 12-year-old Ghofran Elksaier. She rests under her Hannah Montana blanket.

Government forces had taken over her former school as their barracks to accommodate soldiers. She hadn’t been able to go to school since the rebellion started in February last year. Having the barracks located near her home proved to be dangerous.

“We could cross the street only by running in pairs. Usually the sniper’s bullets hit the street after the ones running had already passed. One time it was my turn to run as the last one. The sniper’s bullet hit me in my right thigh. I was holding a seven-month-old baby relative.”

One mother tells of how her children were not so lucky. She also fears that other members of her family and relatives will end up as targets for Assad’s army. Both of her legs are amputated. Fluid from the stubs is dripping onto the linen. There could be an infection.

It all started with the missile and tank strikes in her home village, Abel.

“We tried to smuggle our children to another village, but the government force aeroplanes started scanning the area. Some people tried to escape. My husband wanted to go back, since the situation was the same as in our home village.”

The woman travelled on a motorcycle, holding her one-year-old daughter and three-year-old son.

“I don’t know what hit us. I thought it was a tank. My daughter was hit in the head, my son in the face. They died in a horrible way. They couldn’t even be recognised to be human bodies. Their body fluids had come out.

“My legs were cut. I was conscious all the way to the hospital. I could manage the pain, even when I saw my legs cut.”

According to these refugees, children are just as likely to be targets for the Syrian army as adults. A Syrian doctor who fled, Dr Abd, says he saw nine children being tortured before he was wounded himself.

“Assad’s troops attacked them, because they treat children as terrorists like anyone else. They have to be killed. Children were brought to Baba Amr and were put to hang in the hooks from the ceiling. Abu Hamze [an acquaintance] was tortured with an electric drill. There were many holes in him.”

Dr Abd says there is now trade in body organs in Syria.

“Organs are taken from 90 per cent of the tortured. Usually kidneys, sometimes the liver, occasionally eyes. In Baba Amr [alone] 20 people lost their eyes. They were sold. Also everything else is being sold from the homes starting from TVs and fridges.”

Dr Abd’s claims, like those of other refugees, cannot be independently verified but there is a consistency to their stories in general.

Dr Abd feared on one occasion that he was about to die for helping wounded civilians.

“They took you as a target if you tried to heal the civilians who had taken part in demonstrations or in the revolution. One doctor was killed.”

Dr Abd was wounded when a missile hit a field hospital in the early morning of February 7th. He was smuggled to his friend’s home before the government troops arrived.

During a month in hiding, his leg was operated on in primitive conditions. Since coming to Lebanon, he has obtained proper medical treatment. He bribed his way across the border.

Dr Abd’s roommate in hospital, a man named Abbad who worked in the rebel media centre and devoted himself to filming the war for posterity before he was wounded, is determined to return.

“Even if I only recover 75 per cent, I’d go back to continue the revolution. The revolution will continue, continue, continue, continue, continue, continue until the present government falls.”

Markus Ahonen is a Finnish-born journalist now living in Ireland