Medical workers targeted in Syria
An INTERNATIONAL aid agency says Syrian forces are targeting medical workers and the wounded.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, which is not authorised to work in Syria, sent teams into the country secretly. They reached the rebellious areas of Homs and Idlib, where they found patients and doctors at risk of attack and arrest.
"Being caught with patients is like being caught with a weapon," the group quoted an orthopaedic surgeon as saying. "The atmosphere in most medical facilities is extremely tense; healthcare workers send wounded patients home and provide only first aid so that facilities can be evacuated quickly in the event of a military operation."
Homs and Idlib have been among the hardest hit regions in President Bashar Assad's military crackdown and rebel attacks on soldiers and other regime targets.
Doctors Without Borders called on all parties in the conflict to fully respect the wounded, health workers and medical facilities.
There have been previous reports of authorities targeting medical facilities, health workers and their patients in Syria and also in Bahrain, where there have been widespread protests led by the country's Shiite majority against the long-ruling Sunni monarchy. The reports indicate many of the injured forgo treatment because they fear being detained and tortured if they seek care at government-controlled medical facilities.
"A number of Syrian colleagues are reported to be missing," said Marie-Noëlle Rodrigue, MSF's director of operations in Paris. "The authorities and all parties to the conflict must ensure that medical workers can operate without fear of retribution and that wounded people can safely seek and receive immediate lifesaving care, without resorting to inadequate improvised clinics for fear of arrest, or worse."
An MSF surgeon said his team in Idlib had to flee a public hospital in 10 minutes after being notified of an imminent attack.
"We saw militarised healthcare facilities, meaning that access to medical care depends on which side you belong," said Brice De La Vigne, MSF's director of operations in Brussels.
The Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with mostly peaceful protests calling for change, but a relentless government crackdown led many in the opposition to take up arms. Some soldiers also have switched sides and joined forces with the rebels.
World powers have backed a peace plan that was put forward by Kofi Annan, but the bloodshed has not stopped. More than 100 UN observers have been deployed in Syria to oversee the truce between the government and armed rebels.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees activist group said Tuesday at least three people were killed in an explosion in the Syrian coastal city of Banias, home to one of the country's two oil refineries.
The Observatory said the explosion destroyed a building but the nature of the blast was still not clear.
Both groups also reported government troops shooting in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour near the border with Iraq that left at least three people dead. They added that the central town of Rastan was again under intense shelling by government troops.
Also Tuesday, Khalaf al-Azzawi, the chairman of Syria's Higher Committee of the Elections, said voter turnout in last week's parliamentary elections was was 51.26%.