Pregnant in Idlib, Syria means giving birth outdoors alone

epa05548200 People walk between rubble in the city of Homs, Syria, 19 September 2016. According to media reports, the evacuation process of some 300 gunmen from the besieged neighborhood of al-Waer in Homs that was scheduled to be carried out on the same day has been postponed to the next day. The gunmen would head to the northwestern city of Idlib in accordance with a settlement agreement that was worked out between the Syrian government and the reconciliation committees in the area a year ago. A UN-backed three-phases agreement initiated in 2015 saw the evacuation of hundreds of residents from the neighborhood, whereby detainees held in government prisons would be released and the siege imposed on the area would be lifted. Al-Waer has been the only neighborhood under rebel control in Homs after government troops consolidated their grip over the city in 2014. An estimated 75 thousand people still live in al-Waer, down from about 300 thousand before the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI

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This was not how Rabaa al-Shamaa imagined the birth of her fifth child. Out in an open field near the Syrian-Turkish border, the expectant mother lay on the grass, doubled over in pain.

Just two weeks earlier, government air strikes had targeted her hometown in northwestern Syria, bombing its hospitals and sending Shamaa and her family fleeing north. They’d been sleeping in an olive grove ever since.

As her contractions got closer, Shamaa feared she would have to give birth outdoors without any medical assistance.

“I spent hours in labour in the hot sun under a tree,” she told Middle East Eye. “I cannot begin to describe the pain.”

But upon hearing the roar of a nearby pickup truck, Shamaa’s husband managed to flag down the driver and convinced him to take the family to the nearest hospital.

“I arrived at the hospital with my last breath,” Shamaa said. Shortly after, her son Nasser was born, and Shamaa said she was discharged almost immediately. “I saw death one thousand times that day,” she said. “I wouldn’t wish that on any mother in the world.”

More than 300,000 Syrians like Shamaa have fled their homes since late April, when forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began a bloody campaign to retake parts of northwest Syria held by formerly al-Qaeda-linked group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

Russian and Syrian warplanes have relentlessly pummelled residential areas in southern Idlib and northern Hama, medical aid workers and residents say. The constant bombardment has forced at least 49 hospitals and health facilities to partially or completely suspend services, according to Imad al-Zahran, head of the Idlib Health Directorate’s media office. Meanwhile, doctors working in the region have stopped sharing the coordinates of their hospitals with the United Nations after doing so, they speculate, resulted in their direct targeting.

Since the start of the conflict in 2011, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has documented the killing of more than 890 medical personnel in Syria. The New York-based advocacy group says more than 90 percent of the attacks were perpetrated by Syrian government forces and their allies.

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