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Syrian Doctor: Assad’s Barrel Bombs Have Us Fearing the Sun

The Syrian government's efforts to suppress the rebellion against it have been described as war crimes.


The brutal Syrian civil war has been largely forgotten since U.S. warplanes began bombing Islamic State targets throughout the country, giving Bashar al-Assad a chance to bash the guerillas trying to oust him from power without anyone in the West saying or doing much of anything about it.

That campaign has been marked by strategies of collective punishment — besieging entire cities, turning food supplies into a tool of war, and using indiscriminate weaponry, most notably the barrel bombs that have become a hated symbol of Syrian government atrocities. The crude and cheap weapons, typically dropped from helicopters, are more or less what they sound like: barrels packed with huge amounts of explosive and sometimes debris to act as shrapnel. They are as destructive as they are inaccurate, and human rights groups argue their use by the Syrian government constitutes a war crime.

Because of the difficulty of reporting inside Syria, the victims of Assad’s brutality are largely invisible. But in a new video interview, we hear from a doctor from the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. “People now, in Syria, consider the sun as a hateful thing,” the doctor, referred to in the video by the name Majed to protect his safety, says. “Because a sunny day means that the military jet can move freely, and can hit more targets, and kill more people.”

Majed then describes the terrifying 30-second span spent watching the bomb drop from a helicopter to the ground: “It will be horrible.”

According to Hania Mourtada, a spokesperson for The Syria Campaign, the advocacy group that interviewed the doctor, Majed fled Ghouta in July with his family and now lives in exile. Eastern Ghouta is currently controlled by a coalition of local Islamist militias, including fighters from al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, and is under frequent attack by the Assad regime. It was one of the first cities to join up with the anti-government protests that first arrived in Syria in 2011, and since then it has emerged as a key flashpoint of the four-year-old civil war that is exacting an ever-higher death toll among both civilians and those trying to get them needed medical care.

As of April, the most recent month for which data is available, the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights had documented 256 attacks on medical facilities, with 89 percent of them carried out by government forces. During that time, 624 medical personnel have been killed, 97 percent of them by government forces.

So it is men and women like Majed that find themselves on the frontlines of the Syrian civil war:

Fadi al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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