Vehicle hit by shrapnel while on its way to rescue wounded from Turkish airstrike

An ambulance operated by Cadus and the Turkish Red Crescent in Syria.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Original article by Michael Safi, The Guardian, November 10th, 2019

An ambulance on its way to rescue people wounded in a Turkish airstrike has been damaged in a bombing, in the latest of what Kurdish groups say is a pattern of attacks against medical staff in north-eastern Syria.

The ambulance, which had red markings indicating it was a medical vehicle, was heading to villages north of the town of Tal Tamr on Saturday afternoon when it was struck by shrapnel from a weapon that exploded close by. The two paramedics inside were injured in the blast.

“The ambulance was targeted with heavy weapons,” said Cadus, an independent German aid group and joint operator of the vehicle. “At the time of the attack our ambulance was not operating at the frontline.”

Aram Hamidi, a Kurdish paramedic in the vehicle, said it had been hit by Turkish fire. “Our ambulance was struck and destroyed,” he said in a video interview released by the Rojava Information Center, a media collective working in the area.

“Both I and my colleague who was driving were injured … I was wounded by shrapnel. I still have a piece in my jaw, and all my teeth are broken.”

Photographs of the ambulance – also operated by the Kurdish Red Crescent, a humanitarian organisation not affiliated with the International Committee of the Red Cross – showed cracked windows and bloodstains on the seats.

A series of agreements between Ankara, Moscow and Washington halted a Turkish invasion of north-eastern Syria earlier this month, but fighting continues on the frontiers of territory under Turkey’s control.

Kurdish groups say medical personnel have been targeted throughout the Turkish operation in the area and continue to be vulnerable. The Rojava Information Center estimates that five medical personnel have been killed since the invasion began last month. Three were abducted and executed and two died in drone strikes. A further seven at least have been injured, it said.

Sebastian Jünemann, the chief executive of Cadus, said it was unclear whether the ambulance had been hit by a drone or artillery fire, and that it was hard to tell if had been deliberately targeted. He said Cadus coordinated its movements with the UN’s civil-military coordination centre.

“We have been targeted by Isis in Mosul but never by a state actor like Turkey for example,” Jünemann said. “In Mosul we took certain security measures … but in this situation the actor is a Nato member so we are assured that we are secure. Normally we should be safe.”

Kurdish groups accuse Turkish forces and their militia allies of attacking Kurdish Red Crescent medical infrastructure, including the repeated targeting of a hospital in the city of Ras al-Ayn, and an artillery shell that landed near a medical convoy a week ago, killing a member of the Free Burma Rangers, an independent humanitarian group.

The Turkish government has consistently denied it deliberately targets medical vehicles or facilities. The Turkish foreign ministry has been contacted for comment.