Fear and loathing of Syria's fallen soldiers

At Tishreen hospital, the army’s wounded lie in shock and pain, but they still want to defeat ‘the terrorists’

A month ago Lieutenant Kutaiba Hassan, a career officer in the Syrian army, led his squad of soldiers into an apartment bloc in south Damascus where they had received a tip-off that insurgents were hiding on the fourth floor.

The intelligence turned out to be partially mistaken. As Lt Hassan waited with his men on the ground floor to make their attack, they were shot at by seven men who had been hiding in the basement. The young officer was hit by ten bullets in the legs, while all the rebels died in the fighting.

Today Lt Hassan is lying in Tishreen Military Hospital in Damascus where doctors have struggled to avoid amputating his lower left leg in which the broken bone is held in place by metal clamps. A confident looking man, despite his wounds, he asks why European and other foreign countries give money and weapons to people whom he and his family regard as al-Qaida terrorists.

It does not take long in Tishreen hospital to realise that the conflict in Syria is very much a civil war of great brutality in which the government has its committed supporters along with those who believe that, whatever the failings of the present government, the alternative is even worse. Captain Basil al-Khaim, shot through the chest by a sniper when his checkpoint was attacked, says “we don’t protect the regime. We protect Syria.” He denounced the insurgents as being terrorists from Afghanistan, al-Qa’ida and fundamentalists groups waging holy war on his country. He added that he was only sorry that “I am too badly wounded to go and fight them again.”

The military hospital has 1,000 beds making it one of the largest in the Middle East and its director, an orthopaedic surgeon with the rank of general who did not want his name published for fear of attacks on his family, said “we receive about 15-20 wounded soldiers a day, mostly suffering from gun shot wounds, of whom some 20 per cent die from their injuries.”

Even getting to the hospital has its dangers. The director, a Christian from near Homs, said that over the last year “six of my doctors and four ambulance drivers have been killed.” Later he showed off an ambulance with a bullet hole through the front window that had narrowly missed one driver. Earlier this week there were gun battles at the entrance to the hospital which is close to an insurgent stronghold. Just beyond the hospital gates, buildings on both sides of the road for 100 yards buildings have been flattened by bulldozers to make sniping and ambushes more difficult.

Inside the hospital many of the younger soldiers had been hit when they were on guard. Most looked grey with shock and pain. Ibrahim Mustafa, 25, was in a military training school when he was shot in the shoulder. “I cannot move my hand now,” he said. From the end of his bed his mother, Mahan, furiously denounced those who had shot her son. “In a real revolution people build things but these people destroy everything from schools to electric power lines, they kidnap and kill,” she said. 

Expressions of support for the government by wounded soldiers and their families are infrequent and sound a little forced, but their fear of and hatred for the insurgents as bloodthirsty religious fanatics backed by foreign powers hostile to Syria appears genuine. The director of the hospital said he could not give his name because members of his family in a Christian village near Homs might be targeted: “A cousin of mine called George Nakhoul was kidnapped and we are very worried about him.”   

Some of what wounded soldiers say in a military hospital about their determination to fight can be written off as bravado unlikely to be put to the test. Others may be parroting the government line about the rebels being sectarian killers out of an innate sense of caution. But others appear to believe the government’s portrayal of the enemy is essentially correct and are willing to go on fighting for the moment, even as the odds mount against success.  

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London