David Nott for The Mail on Sunday
The text message from Aleppo flashed up on my phone as I was curled up on the sofa watching animated film The Good Dinosaur with my wife and 14-month-old daughter. It came from a much-loved Syrian friend, a surgeon like me.
Written in haste, it read starkly: ‘Massacres in Aleppo today… 168 cases arrived at the hospital. All of them civilians and mostly children.’
The scene of family contentment at my home in South-West London instantly dissolved. For the next 48 hours I dispensed advice, directed an operation and issued general instructions via instant messaging service WhatsApp to medics 2,500 miles away as they fought to save the lives of children pulverised by ball-bearings from cluster bombs dropped from the skies above the most benighted city on Earth.
Those injured had been lined up in an orderly queue at the time, waiting for bread to feed their starving families. As it transpired, 50 children were taken to hospital M10, the codename used by local doctors to disguise its location. Twenty were dead before they got there; others would succumb to their injuries.
Of the rest, no one knows for sure because over the next few days the hospital – which moved underground in 2014 – was repeatedly blasted from above, on at least one occasion by Russian bombs, until finally it was no more.
That Saturday evening, my colleagues in Aleppo sent me photos of many victims, not only so I would help but also in the hope I would alert the world. A world that isn’t listening and that has averted its gaze.
There were dust-covered dead children; mangled infants teetering between life and death; a little boy, one of the luckier souls, holding his smashed hand aloft; there were X-rays in which ball-bearings lodged in spines and brains appeared as little white spots.
Some of the images I couldn’t bear to open – there were just too many – and there are those I did open and that will never leave me. It was all so painful. Two brothers, for instance, aged about four and six, were pictured side by side on a trolley, life ebbing from them with each passing hour. Later I would learn they both died the following day because there were no fluids to give them and no ventilators available. No one knew their names.
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