Salma: A desperate Syrian town

Life in the small, northwest Syrian town of Salma has become hell, says one paediatrician, who has decided to stay.

It’s the middle of the night, 02:30am local time, to be precise. And the shelling close to our safe house just got a lot louder. Nobody stirs.

Salma’s residents are all used to the sounds of rockets and tank shells falling on and around their town. Since the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters kicked President Bashar al-Assad’s soldiers out in June, an artillery unit perched on the neighbouring mountain has indiscriminately hit house after house – punishment for the rebellion.

The only people out on the streets are the FSA on motorbikes. Whole families are hiding indoors, too scared to venture out. There’s little reason to leave the house anyway. All the shops are boarded up. Their shelves are empty.

The makeshift field clinic is the only busy building. A steady stream of civilians hit by the shelling, and fighters wounded in battle, flows in and out. Medicines are in short supply but the doctors are determined to do their best.

‘Screaming in pain’

“It is miserable to see people injured and shouting, screaming in pain from wounds, shrapnel, bullets all kinds of weapons that should not be used on them,” paediatrician Dr Rami Habib tells me.

“People stay in their homes, talking and eating, and all of a sudden bombs thrown from a place far away cause death, injury, you can’t really imagine how terrible things are here.”

I ask him if Assad’s forces are targeting the Free Syrian Army.

“They never target the FSA because they fear them, so they target only the weak people, civilians,” he says.

Wherever there are civilians in the area, they target them, to try to push people away to clear the area. They target the cars, their houses, their properties.”

The doctor takes us through the streets to see the government spotter tower that calls in the strikes on Salma.

We hurry through those in direct view of the tower. The FSA knows exactly where the strikes are coming from but has no weaponry to stop them.

I ask the doctor what the outside world can do to help those residents left stranded here.

“I’m speaking on behalf of the people in Salma. They need everything We haven’t seen electricity for two months,” he says.

“We haven’t seen water in the pipes for a long time because we don’t have fuel. We have generators but it’s extremely difficult to get fuel to run them.

“We need medical supplies, we need food. People don’t have food to eat. It’s really difficult to get flour from Antakya and it’s restricted.”

He explains how every drop of fuel has to be smuggled in from Turkey by hand. Salma’s people have to physically carry jerry cans over the mountainous border crossing used by the smugglers.

As he describes how he feels the international community has deserted the Syrian people he’s almost lost for words.

Dr Habib has worked in the UK for many years. He didn’t imagine the West would turn its back on his country.

“We haven’t witnessed any effort really and now people of Syria realise nothing is being done on their behalf to get their freedom. I can’t find expressions to describe the situation here,” he says. “It is desperate.”

Follow Sue Turton on Twitter: @sueturtonaje