Aleppo has come to symbolise the devastation wrought on Syria and its population.
Aleppo, Syria – Al-Quds hospital sits in the Sukkari neighbourhood of rebel-controlled eastern Aleppo. One of the city’s main hospitals, it has provided a variety of treatments to Aleppo’s wounded and ill.
That was until last Wednesday, when air strikes launched by government forces hit the hospital, forcing it to shut down. At least 27 people were killed in the air strike, including six doctors and three children.
A week later, rubble and crushed stone still lay all around al-Quds hospital building, as do traces of blood from the attack. “Our hospital was attacked by three aircraft rockets,” Hassan Haleeb, a neurologist and the medical director of the hospital told Al Jazeera.
Al-Quds hospital is now closed, leaving its former patients and Aleppo’s state of healthcare in general at serious risk. The hospital’s closure means the humanitarian situation in Aleppo has gone from bad to worse.
Of the 10 hospitals operating in Aleppo, only five are currently functioning. Each hospital can accommodate between 60 and 75 patients, according to a local source.
Since April 22, Aleppo has been the scene of the worst surge in fighting between rebel forces and Syrian government forces, leaving more than 250 people killed in less than two weeks across the city.
Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and commercial capital, has been a major battleground in the country since rebel forces launched an assault there in mid-2012 that ultimately left the city carved into government- and opposition-held halves.
I searched among the rubble trying to find my brother's body, but couldn't get it out until the next morning. He left behind a wife and four kids.
A partial truce brokered by the United States and Russia was in effect since February 27. However, Aleppo was not included.
On Tuesday, at least three people were killed in a rebel rocket attack on a hospital in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.
The attack was part of a shelling that left at least 19 people dead in government-controlled areas of the city, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the UK-based monitoring group.
Gripped by fighting and regular air strikes, Aleppo has managed to maintain a functioning health sector. However, the lack of qualified medical professionals remaining in the city poses additional problems for the city’s hospitals.
Medical workers also cite the shortage of nurses and paramedics, many of whom have left because of bad conditions in the city.
Although Al-Quds hospital has been hit twice before by regime forces, the recent attack damaged the hospital’s second floor, causing it to close.
“After six days it’s still out of service. Ninety percent of the emergency room was destroyed, the operating room was 20 percent destroyed,” said Haleeb as he assessed the damage inflicted on the hospital. The pediatric intensive care unit (ICU), the internal cardio ICU, the ward and the lab were also damaged in varying degrees.
Another hospital, Dar al-Shifa, has been bombed nearly a dozen times and has since ceased operating, while the Shawki Hilal hospital closed at one point owing to bombing damage but has since reopened.
Hassan Fattouh, a paramedic who works at Zarzour hospital, one of the five remaining operating hospitals in the city, said that during the past two weeks the emergency department [at the hospital] has been receiving about 50 casualties – people killed and injured, every day, due to the fierce bombardment targeting Aleppo city.
“We have not received any killed or injured military personnel during this time because the regime forces mainly target civilian buildings and gatherings,” Fattouh told Al Jazeera. “However, we received yesterday some casualties that came from Aleppo [military] fronts due to the fierce battles there.
“On normal days, we carry out normal emergency procedures and surgeries [operations], depending on the situation of each case. Critical cases, such as those that require surgeries in the chest or the pelvis, are directly transferred to Turkey.”
On a more positive note, Haleeb says they have already started to rebuild the hospital, but only certain sections. “We expect the hospital will return to working in two to three weeks, just the emergency room, the operating room and the ward,” he added.
The surviving patients were transported to other hospitals, says Haleeb, but he notes that those requiring internal medicine now have nowhere to go. “Patients cannot find a place to treat internal diseases now. They are waiting for us to rebuild al-Quds,” he said.
Haleeb and others believe the air strikes were carried out by the Syrian government forces, although the Syrian government denied this claim.
Elsewhere in the city, residents spoke about the horror unfolding during the past few days. “Our neighbourhood has suffered from heavy rocket attacks,” said Majd, a resident of al-Ansari neighbourhood who declined to give his full name.
Majd lost his brother in the attack on al-Quds hospital. “I was on my way to pick him up when a rocket hit the emergency room entrance. I searched among the rubble trying to find my brother’s body, but couldn’t get it out until the next morning. He left behind a wife and four kids,” he said. “Now, planes and helicopters don’t leave the sky. God will avenge this.”
Khalid Ataqi sells mobile phones in Aleppo, but hasn’t been working since the wide-scale attacks last week. “I stay at home with my three kids. They’re terrified of the bombs and the electricity is out,” he told Al Jazeera. “Several of my neighbours have been killed, but nobody in my family has been hurt.”