Sammy Ketz, AFP
Last updated: 31 August, 2012

Wounded Syrian soldiers tell their stories

Conscript Mussa al-Aswad was on a routine army patrol in the Palestinian camp near Daraa, the cradle of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, when he lost his right leg in an ambush.

Lying on his bed in the Tishrin military hospital in Damascus, the 22-year-old originally from the central province of Hama recounts the events of a day he is unlikely to forget.

“I was on patrol with 40 other soldiers in the camp when we were shot at. We managed to get to cover but two of my friends were wounded,” he tells AFP.

“I was able to help get them out, but then when I tried to recover their weapons I was hit in the leg. It must have been some kind of poisoned bullet, because doctors at the hospital had to amputate my leg.”

Aswad’s mother listens sadly as she offers sweets to visitors.

The continuous crump of exploding artillery rounds outside rattles the windows of the hospital which is near Qaboon, a rebel neighbourhood in the north of the capital.

Asked when he thinks the conflict might end, the soldier replies wearily with a question of his own: “Do you not hear that artillery piece firing away without a break?”

Since the start of the revolt against Assad in March 2011, more than 8,000 soldiers and members of security forces have been killed and even more wounded, says the hospital’s director of what has become a highly brutal conflict.

The vast majority of the wounded are conscripts. Military service in Syria used to be for 18 months, but since the uprising began, soldiers can be kept in the ranks indefinitely.

In the same room as Aswad is Ghalib Mohammed, 23, a member of the security forces who had been shot eight times in the back and left leg.

“We were called in to lend a hand at a police station in Assad al-Ward,” he says, referring to a town 40 kilometres (25 miles) northwest of Damascus near the border with Lebanon.

“From the hill in Lebanon, they attacked us with weapons of all calibres. The other members of my group left the fields because they had no more ammunition. I kept on firing and was hit in the back and legs.”

“When this war will end I don’t know, but it will be us or them,” adds Mohammed’s brother who was part of the same group but emerged unscathed.

In another room, Abdullah al-Ali is in a coma.

He cannot tell his own story.

Shrapnel lanced a seven-centimetre (nearly three-inch) hole in his skull when he was stationed at Al-Bab in Aleppo province in the north.

For two months his mother has been looking after him, 550 kilometres (340 miles) away from the family home in Raqa in northeastern Syria.

“Many of these young people will suffer from after-effects and 20 percent will be paralysed for life,” says a Paris-educated neurosurgeon who specialises in head and spinal surgeries.

The hospital chief says 10 percent of the wounds treated at the military hospital are to the head and neck, 10 percent in the abdomen, 10 to the chest and 70 percent in legs and arms.

Most of the casualties were brought in from Daraa in the south, where the uprising began, from the province of Damascus, Homs in the centre, Latakia in the northwest and Deir Ezzor in the east.

On the ground floor, ambulances halt outside the hospital morgue and medics remove the bodies of two more members of the security forces on stretchers. Saad Saadeddin had been shot in the back and Fathi Bdoun in the head.

“We were manning a checkpoint at the entrance of Ain Tarma (east of Damascus) when we were attacked from several points. Two were killed and seven wounded. It lasted no more than 20 minutes,” says Firas, one of their comrades.

Fifteen minutes later a ceremony is held to honour the dead.

Soldiers carry their plywood coffins stained with blood but draped in the Syrian flag and carrying ribboned wreaths from the company commander.

The Last Post sounds to honour the 47 soldiers reported killed the day before before the bodies of the dead soldiers are sent back for burial to their home provinces.

“They (rebels) are like rats — they attack and flee. This is not a conventional war, it’s a war of shadows,” says Firas.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights says that more than 25,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict since it erupted in March 2011.