Turkish offensive stretches Syria hospital to limit

Tal Tamr (Syria) (AFP) –


Writhing in pain on a hospital stretcher, Fatima al-Issa bit on a purple handkerchief as a medical team tended to wounds she suffered in Turkish bombardment of northeast Syria.

They rubbed ointment into burns around her swollen left eye after the 45-year-old was hit by shrapnel from Turkish shelling near her home in the border region of Ras al-Ain.

Outside the medical facility in Tal Tamr, a small town in Hassakeh province, the corpse of a Kurdish fighter in blood-stained fatigues was pulled out of an ambulance.

Other Kurdish fighters gripped their crutches as they hobbled on to the pavement, carrying bags containing their belongings, after being discharged.

Most casualties were from the flashpoint border areas of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad, the main objectives of Ankara's offensive, doctors and patients said.

"The clashes are fierce and Turkish warplanes are always in the sky," said a member of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the de facto army of the region's Kurdish administration.

"Several of our colleagues have been killed or wounded," said the fighter, who asked not to be named over security concerns.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 28 civilians and 74 SDF fighters have been killed by Turkish bombardment since Ankara launched its cross-border operation on Wednesday.

Turkey says cross-border fire by Kurdish forces has left 18 of its civilians dead.

- 'Additional pressure' -

In the corridors of Tal Tamr hospital, women wailed as they scrambled in search of relatives who had gone missing in the violence.

The head of the facility appealed for outside help in medical supplies and equipment. "There are a lot of wounded people and our capabilities are limited," said Dr Hasan.

Turkey's offensive, its third since the 2011 start of war in Syria, has stirred international condemnation and aid groups have warned of yet another humanitarian disaster if it is not stopped.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to press ahead with an assault which the UN says has already displaced 100,000 people.

Ras al-Ain, Tal Abyad and other border towns between them have been almost emptied in a huge wave of displacement.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the exodus is taking its toll on health services in the region.

In a statement on Friday, it said a hospital it supports in Tal Abyad had closed after medical staff fled the area with their families.

?With healthcare services already struggling to meet the needs of the population, displacement and injuries caused by fighting are likely to put additional pressure on the existing limited resources in hospitals," MSF said.

The Kurdish Red Crescent said Saturday it would stop dispatching medical teams to Ras al-Ain after one of its medical posts south of the town was hit by Turkish fire.

Standing outside a hospital room, where his brother was being treated in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli, Jawan Mahdi accused Ankara of deliberately hitting civilians.

"Today's bombardment targeted mostly civilians," he told AFP. "There are no military bases here."