Syrian nurse speaks of ordeal in Turkish-blockaded hospital

Hasakeh (Syria) (AFP) –


There were moments during the days-long Turkish siege of a Syrian hospital that Raman Ouso did not think he would get out alive.

The 27-year-old nurse was part of a small team of medics that stayed to help the wounded in the town of Ras al-Ain in northern Syria earlier this month despite an oncoming Turkish onslaught.

They were trapped for nearly a week, with the city cut off by Turkish forces and the hospital damaged multiple times.

"We didn't believe we would survive," the young man in a green T-shirt, jeans and black glasses said.

"I never in my life thought I would live through this difficult test."

Earlier this month US President Donald Trump shocked the world by announcing American forces would rapidly withdraw from northern Syria.

The decision was widely seen as authorising Turkey and its Syrian proxies to launch an assault on the Kurds in northern Syria, though Trump denied this.

The Kurds, and particularly the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have been the key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Turkey accuses them of links to Kurdish separatists inside its territory and designates the SDF a terrorist organisation.

Ankara's forces, and their Syrian allies, began a major assault and rapidly seized more than 100 kilometres (62 miles) of territory along the Syria-Turkish border from Kurdish control.

- Powerless -

But the SDF dug in at the key strategic town of Ras al-Ain.

Turkish forces, which are vastly better equipped than the SDF, surrounded and eventually cut off the city, with dozens killed in fierce battles.

Ouso, a volunteer with the Kurdish Red Crescent who studied as an assistant anaesthetist, stayed at the city's main hospital even as the fighting moved close and Turkish air strikes pounded the city.

They lacked drugs and man-power, he said.

"There was heavy shelling and clashes outside."

"Many people lost their lives and there was nothing I could do," he said.

"Our capacity was very limited, we needed specialists."

Eventually the battles came deep inside the city, with control fought street by street.

With the smell of smoke and decaying corpses wafting in from the street, he and his colleagues kept treating injured civilians and fighters.

Ouso said Turkish-backed Syrian militias would play menacing religious calls close to the hospital to threaten the population.

- Hospital struck -

One day the hospital was damaged during clashes, with the medics trapped inside.

"The hospital was bombed and attacked. There was a failed attempt to take control of the hospital and seize the wounded," Ouso said.

For days they slept in the hospital, if at all. To distract himself he would flick through photos of better times.

"We had nurses crying all the time as they were afraid of being captured," he said.

"They lost hope they would get out."

Just as suddenly as the crisis began, it ended -- with an October 17 US-brokered ceasefire allowing the SDF and civilians to withdraw.

At first, Ouso said, they didn't believe it as fighting continued.

But eventually they were able to escape back to the predominantly Kurdish city of Hasakeh in northeastern Syria.

When he saw his mother again, he collapsed crying.

Now he vows to go on providing care in the local hospital but hopes Syria can soon be at peace again after eight devastating years of civil conflict.

"I want this war to end and everything to go back to normal."