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As Civilian Casualties Mount, Afrin Hospital Braces For Tragedy

Turkey’s military offensive against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin has prompted fears of a humanitarian tragedy amid mounting civilian casualties and the wounded after Turkish shelling of the residential areas.

Health workers in the northern Syrian town of Afrin fear about a tragedy as medicines run short and the number of civilian casualties keeps rising.

“Medication and humanitarian aid necessary to help civilians will soon run out,” said Khalil Sabri Ahmed, head of the main hospital in Afrin which has received dozens of civilian casualties in the past week.

Turkey launched a major air and ground operation in northern Syria on Jan. 20 in a bid to oust a U.S.-allied militia, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group. At Afrin’s main hospital, the mood is somber, even if Christmas decorations still adorn some walls, said a reporter who works with AFP and toured the facility.

A man, his head covered in bandages and with a black eye, flashed a V for victory sign, in an effort to put a brave face to his condition after sustaining injuries in a Turkish bombardment.

Nearby a small girl lay on a metal cot, with a cast on one foot and her arm hooked up to an intravenous drip.

Journalists tried to get her to tell her story on camera but she retreated into silence, her eyes filled with sadness and staring into empty space.

A patient wearing a thick sweater had dozed off and a nurse was taking the blood pressure of a white-haired, dour-looking elderly man.

The corridors were silent and everyone looked gloomy.

For the past week, villages and towns around Afrin on the Syrian-Turkish border have come under intense Turkish bombardment from the air and ground.

Dozens of civilians have been wounded and serious cases have been taken to Afrin’s main hospital.

“Civilians are those bearing the brunt,” said hospital manager Ahmed.

According to Britain-based monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 36 civilians have been killed since Turkey launched operation “Olive Branch.”

Health workers have set up “medical shelters” close to the border to provide first-aid to the wounded because hospitals and clinics in the area have also been hit, said Ahmed.

But there is growing fear among health officials that a sustained military campaign will spark a “humanitarian tragedy” for civilians in the Afrin region, as medication and supplies dwindle.

Afrin’s geographical location does not help.

Turkey holds the borders to the north and west of Afrin while Syrian pro-Ankara rebels control areas to the south and east.

There is only one road in and out of the hilly enclave, leading to Syrian second city Aleppo, and that is controlled by anti-government rebels.

“Our capacities are weak because of this siege and if the pressure increases it will be very difficult to hold out,” said Ahmed.

He urged international organizations to dispatch aid to Afrin and press for an end to Turkey’s “aggression.”

The head of the Kurdish Red Crescent, Nouri Sheikh Qanbar, echoed his plea saying: “We hope that international organizations will launch humanitarian initiatives to send us aid.”

And children are already paying a heavy price in Afrin, with at least 11 killed since the Turkish offensive began, said the UN children’s agency UNICEF in a statement.

“Violence is reported to be so intense that families are confined to the basements of their buildings. The majority of shops are closed and UNICEF-supported child protection services, including a child-friendly space and psychosocial support activities, had to be suspended,” it said.

“Wars have laws and these laws are being broken every single day in Syria,” said UNICEF.

The United Nations has said around 5,000 people have been displaced by the offensive.

Outside morgues in Afrin, relatives of civilians killed in the violence gather to mourn as bodies are laid out.

A man whose son was killed looked on with teary eyes, as a group of tearful women grieved for the loss of a relative. “Don’t cry, they are martyrs who have preceded us to heaven,” he said.

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