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.