Omran Daqneesh: Rescue worker who saved boy photographed in Aleppo warns 'massacres happening every day'

Russia denies responsibility for strike that destroyed five-year-old's home and killed eight people

Lizzie Dearden@lizziedearden
Friday 19 August 2016 17:26
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Omran Daqneesh after having received some medical treatment
Omran Daqneesh after having received some medical treatment

The volunteer who rescued a five-year-old boy from the rubble of his family home in Aleppo has warned that similar tragedies “happen every day” in the divided Syrian city.

A photo of Omran Daqneesh sitting alone in the back of an ambulance, dazed and covered with dust and blood, has spread around the world as a symbol of the suffering endured by Syrian civilians.

Bibars Halabi said he and fellow volunteers with the Syrian Civil Defence group, known as the White Helmets, rushed to the destroyed apartment after receiving reports of an air strike on Wednesday night.

“The first boy we rescued was Omran,” he recalled. “My team mate took him out to the ambulance and laid him on a chair and then rushed back to help rescue the rest of the family.

The video which shows the suffering of the children of Aleppo

“My heart breaks for Omran but people need to know this happens every day.

“Every day we rescue children and families. Every day I meet traumatised parents after losing a child or even not being able to find the body under the rubble. Just this time it was caught on camera.”

The White Helmets, who have been nominated for the Nobel Prize for their life-saving work in Syrian warzones, regularly post harrowing footage and images from bombarded areas.

But no image has captured the public like that of Omran, with the impact likened to that seen after the death of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose drowned body was photographed washed up on a Turkish beach.

Mr Halabi said he wants to stop the “Russian and regime bombs” blamed for hundreds of civilian deaths in rebel-held areas of Aleppo, adding: “While I care about Omran, Samir or Ahmad, I care about all the massacres that are happening. I care about all the children of Aleppo.”

Russia has denied responsibility for Wednesday’s air strikes in the Qaterji district, which killed at least eight people, including five children.

The Russian defence ministry insisted it never targets populated areas and sought to blame “the terrorists”, meaning rebels, for the destruction.

But monitors have accused Russian forces of killing thousands of civilians in almost a year of air strikes supporting President Bashar al-Assad.

Eastern Aleppo, where Omran and his family were injured, has been bombarded for years after being taken over by opposition groups at the start of the Syrian civil war.

Mahmoud Raslan, the activist who took the now iconic photo of the child, said Wednesday’s blasts started shortly after evening prayers. Speaking in an interview with The Syria Campaign advocacy group, he said he arrived at the building to see three bodies being carried away.

Five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, with bloodied face, sits with his sister inside an ambulance after an airstrike in Aleppo

“Omran affected me because he was silent. He didn’t cry. He didn’t say a word. He was in shock,” Mr Raslan added.

“I thought of my baby girl. I thought to myself it could be her. It could be any child in Aleppo or Syria. I woke up to see the whole world using the photo and talking about it. I thought to myself, I hope all photos of children and attacks in Syria go viral so the world knows what life is like here.”

Omran, his three siblings and parents were injured in the strike but survived, with his seven-year-old sister undergoing surgery on Thursday.

Aleppo, which is split between regime and rebel control, has been at the epicentre of continued battles and bombing, despite successive attempts at ceasefires.

Aid convoys have not been able to get to the city for months, with fighting continuing as a coalition of Islamist militants including the former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra fight to open up a corridor out of besieged areas.

The situation in Aleppo on 18 August 2016, with rebel territory and attacks seen in green, regime in red and Kurdish in yellow

Boris Johnson backed the United Nations’ call for a 48-hour ceasefire on Friday, saying essential aid, food and medical supplies needed to reach thousands of trapped civilians.

“The whole world is horrified by the suffering of the people of Aleppo – the bombing of innocent civilians, the murder of defenceless children,” the Foreign Secretary said.

“It is only when the fighting and bombing stops that we can hope to deliver the political solution – a transition away from the Assad regime towards a new government committed to the interests of all Syrians.”

The violence continued on Friday as Russian navy ships launched cruise missiles at rebels and battles raged between Isis militants and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces elsewhere.

Scores of residents fled the north-eastern city of Hasakah during a lull in fighting between regime troops and Kurdish YPG forces but new clashes broke out later in the day as Syrian jets carried out bombing raids.

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