Emergency workers in rebel-held province say they will continue to serve Syrians in need despite threat of attack by Assad regime warplanes.
Abo Hosam knows loss. The 37-year-old has lost four brothers since civil war started in Syria in 2011.
The father of four knows that at any point, he could be next, given his line of work; driving ambulances near regime lines in rebel-held Idlib province.
Hosam was stationed in the Kalat al-Madeq area but has had to pull out from there after regime troops captured the territory in an ongoing offensive in Idlib, backed by warplanes, both Syrian regime and Russian.
The native of Maraat al-Nouman in Idlib has a vast job description. His team consists of four ambulances and their crews, with no one having a specific speciality because death can claim any one of them at anytime.
At any given moment, Hosam is an ambulance driver or a first responder, pulling the wounded from the ruins of what once a home, school, medical clinic or shop.
Since the regime attacks began, Hosam’s wife spends the nights awake with worry, fearing any one of the explosions she hears have killed her husband.
Death is part of the job description. Coming across those killed by the war has become such a frequent occurrence that he describes it as “terrible but normal at the same time”.
Nevertheless, he finds a deep sense of satisfaction in what he does.
“I love my work, I’m so happy when I’m driving people to safety in the ambulance,” he told TRT World. “Rescuing innocent lives is what gives my life meaning and it makes me stronger.”
Idlib and surrounding rebel-held areas are part of a de-escalation zone agreed upon by Turkey and Russia in 2017. However, that has not stopped a regime offensive, which has killed hundreds of people and displaced up to 250,000 people so far.
Attacks on hospitals
The regime has been indiscriminate in its choice of targets, with ordinary people bearing the brunt of airstrikes on civilian structures, such as residential blocks and hospitals.
Khalil Haj Mohammed, 29, was wounded in an airstrike, which buried shrapnel deep inside his flesh, and required hospitalisation at Kafranbel hospital due to extensive blood loss. But even there he was not safe from regime warplanes.
“I was in the room with others patients when the building felt like it jumped off the ground,” he said.
“Everything around me turned to white dust.
“All I could hear was the sound of people screaming, shouting for the doctors to help.”
Mohammed survived the strike without further injury, which he credits to the fact his bed was away from the glass windows, but he witnessed at least one other patient wounded by falling debris.
The strikes continued for half an hour, which Mohammed said felt like hours. With each hit, staff at the hospital reassured the patients that the building was strong and that it could withstand the bombardment.
The patients were then transferred to Maraat al-Nouman by ambulance, which Mohammed said was a journey filled with the anxiety that the vehicle too could be hit by warplanes.
According to Dr Fares al-Jundi, the opposition minister for health in northern Syria, strikes on medical facilities had led to a “massive” deterioration in the care medics were able to provide the sick and wounded.
“More than 29 medical facilities are now out of service, our funds unfortunately remain the same, we have no emergency funds to operate local clinics,” Jundi said, explaining that the remaining operational facilities were trying to use their resources “reasonably”.
In addition to the regime attacks, lack of funds, and diminishing supplies, doctors also complain of frequent power cuts that leave them unable to care for patients with special requirements, such as life support machines.
The importance of functioning equipment is crucial to the work of rescue workers, and many like Hosam have become emotionally invested in ensuring they have the means to save lives.
The medical worker described a recent bombing at a hospital and stumbling across the remains of his vehicle destroyed , which had been destroyed.
“I looked at the ambulance and I felt like I lost one of my sons. I saved more than 500 patients in that vehicle in the past few months, and it was gone," he said.
“The ambulance is not my property I know, but I’m devastated because we are already short of cars and now I’ve lost another.
“I was sobbing.”