Syria: Hama hospitals 'closed after army attacks'

Damaged police cars in Hama, Syria (taken on government-led media tour 11 Aug 2011) Hama came under a week-long assault from government troops after large protests

A doctor in the Syrian city of Hama has told the BBC that medical services there have been severely affected by recent government attacks.

The doctor, who cannot be named for his safety, said two hospitals were closed and one had been stormed by troops, injuring many of the medical staff.

Hama has come under heavy attack in President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on anti-government protests.

The army says it has now left the city but activists say the attacks continue.

Syria is facing growing international condemnation of the violence against its civilians, with the US calling for it to be politically and economically isolated.

On Saturday, US President Barack Obama held phone conversations with Saudi King Abdullah and British Prime Minister David Cameron in which they expressed their concern over the violence.

Medics hurt

Tanks and troops were deployed to Hama at the end of July, with the stated aim of restoring control after tens of thousands of people staged protests against Mr Assad's regime.

After its much-publicised military retreat last week, Damascus insists life there is now returning to normal, but activists say the demonstrations have continued along with the civilian deaths.

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Bodies have been taken by the security forces and photographed to make them look like members of armed gangs”

End Quote Hama doctor

International journalists face severe restrictions to reporting in Syria, and it is hard to verify reports.

But the doctor in Hama said the city had two government hospitals - one a paediatric centre - where people would normally go in emergency cases.

"But people aren't going to the national hospital because the security forces are there and have killed some wounded people," he said.

Two of the city's private hospitals have been closed completely because of the extent of the damage from shelling, he said, while two more have been partially destroyed.

An intensive care unit and a large amount of medical equipment were destroyed by missiles at the al-Hourani hospital, he said.

"The security forces broke into the hospital, searching for weapons. Many of the hospital team were injured during that break-in."

At the city's largest hospital, a severe lack of blood supplies meant doctors could no longer carry out blood transfusions - they also lacked basic medicines such as antibiotics, he said.

The doctor said he believed as many as 2,000 people had been killed in the government assault on the city, but that many of the bodies could not be found because they were buried under buildings destroyed by missiles.

"Some bodies have been taken by the security forces and photographed to make them look like members of armed gangs," he said.

'Brutal reaction'

Mr Assad, who leads one of the most repressive countries in the Arab world, has blamed the unrest on "armed terrorists".

Army vehicles withdraw from Hama, Syria (10 Aug 2011) The Syrian army invited the media to witness its withdrawal from Hama last week

He has made some concessions, including revoking an emergency law, and has promised to introduce political reforms, but his critics say these do not go far enough and mean nothing as long as people calling for democracy are killed.

The US has imposed sanctions on Damascus and Secretary of State Hillary has called for an international embargo on oil, gas and arms, saying giving economic or political support to Mr Assad was giving "comfort in his brutality".

The White House said that in their conversation on Saturday, Mr Obama and King Abdullah shared their "deep concerns about the Syrian government's use of violence against its citizens".

"They agreed that the Syrian regime's brutal campaign of violence against the Syrian people must end immediately," said the White House in a statement.

Downing Street meanwhile said Mr Cameron and Mr Obama had "expressed horror at the brutal reaction of the Syrian regime to legitimate protests, particularly during Ramadan," the Muslim holy month.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait have all recalled their ambassadors from Damascus while Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has described the methods used by the Syrian security forces as "unacceptable".

The US has so far stopped short of calling for Mr Assad's resignation, saying the call must be made alongside the wider international community.

Syria's anti-government protests, inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, first erupted in mid-March after the arrest of a group of teenagers who spray-painted a revolutionary slogan on a wall. The protests soon spread, and the UN says 3,500 people have died in the turmoil - mainly protestors but also members of Syria's security forces - while thousands more have been injured.
Although the arrest of the teenagers in the southern city of Deraa first prompted people to take to the streets, unrest has since spread to other areas, including Hama, Homs, Latakia, Jisr al-Shughour and Baniyas. Demonstrators are demanding greater freedom, an end to corruption, and, increasingly, the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad.
The government has responded to the protests with overwhelming military force, sending tanks and troops into towns and cities. Amateur video footage shows tanks and snipers firing on unarmed protesters. There may have been an armed element to the uprising from its early days and army deserters have formed the Free Syrian Army.
Some of the bloodiest events have taken place in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour. In early June, officials claimed 120 security personnel were killed by armed gangs, however protesters said the dead were shot by troops for refusing to kill demonstrators. As the military moved to take control of the town, thousands fled to neighbouring Turkey, taking refuge in camps.
Although the major cities of Damascus and Aleppo have seen pockets of unrest and some protests, it has not been widespread - due partly to a heavy security presence. There have been rallies in the capital - one with an enormous Syrian flag - in support of President Assad, who still receives the backing of many in Syria's middle class, business elite and minority groups.
The Assad family has been in power for 40 years, with Bashar al-Assad inheriting office in 2000. The president has opened up the economy, but has continued to jail critics and control the media. He is from the minority Alawite sect - an offshoot of Shia Islam - but the country's 20 million people are mainly Sunni. The biggest protests have been in Sunni-majority areas.
The uprising has cost 3,500 lives, according to the UN and Jordan's King Abdullah says that President Assad should now step down. The Arab League has suspended Syria's membership and voted for sanctions. The EU has frozen the assets of Syrian officials, placed an arms embargo on Syria and banned imports of its oil. But fears remain of Syria collapsing into civil war.
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