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Syrian doctor: 'They look at us like we are terrorists'

February 8, 2012 |  3:37 pm

Syrian rebels evacuate an injured comrade in Idlib.
In towns bloodied by the Syrian uprising, the electricity goes out, putting medicine that needs to be refrigerated at risk. Wounded people are afraid to go to a hospital, worrying that they will be arrested or tortured. Needles to stream intravenous fluid or transfer blood are in short supply.

These are the woes that Syrian-born physician Bassel Atassi recounts from Detroit.

Atassi is a board member with the Syrian American Medical Society, a nonprofit group for medical professionals of Syrian descent. The group has been trying to assist doctors in Syria, which has been racked by violence as opposition members try to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad.

"We’re trying not to deal with any politics," Atassi said. But politics are everywhere for Syrian doctors.

Physicians have been persecuted for helping injured protesters or even carrying medicines, according to testimony gathered by Doctors Without Borders. A Syrian doctor contacted through the Syrian American Medical Society was afraid to give his name.

"They look at us like we are terrorists who are fighting them through our medical services," he said Wednesday in a Skype interview from Syria. "All of your day you are afraid. At the beginning we couldn’t sleep. We expected that every phone call we received..." He paused. "But somehow we got used to it."

The Syrian doctor, whose account couldn't be independently verified, described treating wounds made by snipers and shrapnel even though he isn’t trained as a surgeon.

"There was a bullet in the chest that went all the way through," he recounted. "Thank goodness the subtracheal arteries weren’t injured. Usually you would have a chest X-ray,  but we couldn’t risk his life by transporting him to a hospital."

He said he doesn't trust even the few humanitarian organizations that are trying to provide help, fearing that are tied to the government. "We cannot risk ourselves more than we are," he said.

Back in the United States, the Syrian American Medical Society has been urging the International Committee of the Red Cross to put more pressure on Syria to let the wounded be safely transported and treated.

 "We could send in money and medicine if they let things come in," Atassi said of the Syrian authorities. "But they don’t."


Syria violence: Who is helping the wounded?

In Syria, a once-quiet village tips into revolution

Syria report: Patients injured in protests and doctors persecuted

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Two Syrian rebels evacuate an injured fellow rebel Wednesday in Idlib, Syria. Credit: Associated Press