Syrians are covering one eye in symbol of resistance after baby is partially blinded by Assad regime bombing

‘If shelling against civilians doesn’t stop, there are going to be a hundred like Karim,’ says volunteer

Harriet Agerholm@HarrietAgerholm
Wednesday 20 December 2017 16:41
Children join the campaign and pose covering one eye with their hand
Children join the campaign and pose covering one eye with their hand

Syrians have launched a campaign in support of a baby who lost an eye and had his skull crushed during government attacks on his besieged hometown near Damascus.

Karim was first wounded in October when artillery shells struck a market in Hammouria, in rebel-held eastern Ghouta, killing his mother. The same attack killed a pregnant woman, her unborn child, and a third woman.

Ten days later later, after Karim was discharged from hospital, shrapnel tore through the roof of his house. Once again, he had to be rescued from the rubble.

A man in eastern Ghouta covers his right eye in solidarity with Karim (AP/Ghouta Media Centre)

In a series of images circulating on social media, residents of eastern Ghouta and activists elsewhere have posted pictures of themselves covering one eye, in tribute to the now three-month-old infant.

British permanent representative to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, also featured in a photo published by the British Foreign Office covering one of his eyes.

The Solidarity with Karim campaign is the latest effort to draw international attention to the four-year-long government siege.

Conditions in east Ghouta have rapidly deteriorated in recent weeks as fighting broke out and food shortages intensified.

Nearly half of the 400,000 people trapped there are believed to be children, according to Unicef.

The Syrian government has launched ferocious attacks on the area in recent weeks that monitors say have killed at least 150 civilians.

More than 100 children require immediate evacuation and five have already died because of a lack of medical care, according to the UN’s children’s agency.

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has refused to allow the UN to transfer nearly 500 people requiring medical evacuation to hospitals only minutes away.

“Infants – some of them just one or two months old – will die if evacuation permits are not granted immediately,” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council on Tuesday.

He said 16 people waiting for permission to leave have died, including a 45-day-old infant, a nine-year old girl and a quadriplegic.

“All that is needed is the green light from the Syrian authorities for these people to go to hospitals just a few miles outside of eastern Ghouta,” he added.

The area is grappling with severe food shortages, with 11.9 per cent of children in the area suffering from acute malnutrition — the highest rate recorded in the country since the civil war began six years ago.

Aid is only able to reach around 7 per cent of those who are besieged, the UN said.

The Red Cross said “frightening” food shortages were driving up the prices of supplies, meaning the few provisions that were in the area were unaffordable.

France’s UN Ambassador Francois Delattre called the situation in eastern Ghouta “repulsive”.

“The regime is starving its population to kill off the opposition,” Mr Delattre said. “It’s a serious violation of international law and also a huge moral sin, and everyone who has an influence on the Syrian regime should pressure it to put an end to this situation, which is totally unacceptable.”

Qussai Nour, a local journalist who visited Karimon on Monday, said the baby’s unemployed father was struggling to care for him while raising his other children.

“Doctors in Ghouta are taking care of Karim, but he needs specialists in neurology, ophthalmology and cosmetic surgery,” Mr Nour said. “The situation at their home is quite miserable.”

A medical report following the first attack said Karim, who was 40 days old at the time, suffered from loss of skull bone and severe tissue tearing that affected the eye socket, threatening to leave a permanent scare. The report said he needed specialist care that is not available in eastern Ghouta.

“Karim is one of hundreds of cases in eastern Ghouta. If shelling against civilians doesn’t stop, there are going to be a hundred or a thousand like Karim,” said Moayed al-Halafi, a member of the Syrian Civil Defence, volunteer first-responders known as White Helmets.

The war – now in its seventh year – has left an estimated 500,000 people dead and displaced more than half of Syria’s pre war population of 22 million people from their homes.

Ghouta is supposedly covered by a de-escalation zone deal brokered by Turkey, Iran and Russia earlier this year – but monitors and rebels say fighting has continued on many fronts.

Associated Press contributed to this report

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