'People's Convoy' sets off from UK to Syria to build new children's hospital in Aleppo

A fleet of volunteers and medical supplies set off from London after £170,000 was donated in just 10 days

May Bulman
Sunday 18 December 2016 01:37 GMT
The convoy left London following days of harrowing reports of civilians suffering in the rebel-held enclaves in the Syrian city of Aleppo
The convoy left London following days of harrowing reports of civilians suffering in the rebel-held enclaves in the Syrian city of Aleppo (Saleyha Ahsan)

A convoy carrying supplies to build a new children’s hospital in Syria has left the UK after more than £170,000 was donated to the cause in just 10 days.

The crowdfunded project, dubbed ,The People’s Convoy, is an effort to replace a children’s hospital that was bombed in November and offer direct support to medical workers who have been deliberately targeted during the conflict.

The fleet of volunteers and medical supplies, organised byCanDo, The Syria Campaign, Doctors Under Fire and The Phoenix Foundation, left London following days of harrowing reports of civilians suffering in rebel-held enclaves in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

It will take about a week for the convoy to reach the Syrian border, at which point it will be handed over to the Independent Doctors' Association, which plans to travel on to the outskirts of Aleppo and begin building the hospital.

Saleyha Ahsan, an emergency doctor and co-founder of Doctors Under Fire who is travelling with the convoy, told The Independent: “We decided we had seen enough and now it’s time to respond.

“The ongoing attacks against healthcare have rendered it redundant and now a real urgent need exists to find a solution - in terms of healthcare.”

Also among those travelling to Syria with the convy is photographer Paul Conroy, who is returning to the war-torn region four years after a blast that left him seriously injured and killed acclaimed war reporter Marie Colvin when the media centre they were in was shelled.

Mr Conroy told the Press Association: “A few years ago I was in Homs lying in the rubble next to my dead partner Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik.

“We were taken to a hospital field clinic and the treatment I had - I had a toothbrush, a bottle of iodine and an office stapler to put my leg back together. That hasn’t changed. Doctors and medics are some of the most hunted people in Syria.”

The children’s hospital in Aleppo was destroyed in November during an assault against opposition-held districts of the city. Harrowing video footage showed tiny babies being removed from their incubators in smoke-filled wards, prompting condemnation of the Syrian government and Russia by the US and the UN.

Harrowing scenes from a hospital under siege as nurses evacuate babies from a childrens ward

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) at the time warned that medical supplies had been “depleted” with “no possibility of sending more supplies in”.

Some 8,000 civilians, including 2,700 children, were supposed to begin leaving the besieged rebel-held areas in the city’s east on Wednesday, but the evacuation was halted on Friday after reports a ceasefire, negotiated by Turkey and Russia, had broken down.

Rebel and government officials said the evacuation of Aleppo would resume and two Shia villages would be evacuated as part of the deal, as well as the wounded from two towns near the Lebanese border and east Aleppo.

But sources said negotiations between pro-government and opposition forces, plus their international backers, continued to finalise how the evacuations would take place and how many people would leave.

Syrian rebels have meanwhile accused Iranian and Shia militias of deliberately holding up a deal to evacuate civilians trapped in the rebel-held enclaves of the city.

Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned on Saturday that “house-to-house murder” was being carried out in besieged areas of the city, denouncing the “appalling bombardment” of civilians and raising fears the fighting could spread to Idlib, the rebel-held province where people were being taken during the evacuation.

On Saturday evening there was reportedly no sign the evacuation was happening, with a resident in Aleppo telling Reuters nobody had left the rebel-held enclave and no buses had entered, and adding that he had heard gunfire near where people were supposed to wait for buses.

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