Syria’s First Line of Defense: Dial 133 for True Heroism

Posted: February 4, 2013 in Uncategorized
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By Franklin Lamb

Damascus — There are more than 9000 of them. Predominately young, but of all ages, and all volunteers. They often risk their lives working twelve-hour shifts seven days a week at the Syrian Arab Republic Red Crescent Society (SARCS) Emergency Operation center.

Located at The New Zahera Hospital in Damascus just to the south of Yarmouk refugee camp, SARCS has its main emergency response teams HQ. It is here where Syrians, some Palestinians and even a few from the larger Arab region and the West receive training as qualified paramedics. Two-thirds are students or recent graduates. Not all are supportive of the Assad government, but all are sympathetic towards whoever can end the killing and return life to “pre-events” normalcy.

In the Operations Center, volunteers take phone calls as they stare at a large computer screen displaying a Google Earth close-up view of the areas where emergency responders are urgently needed. Some of the tech-savvy volunteers have highlighted in green the safest routes to the crisis their ambulances should take. The dispatchers get input from police, neighbors, even troops and “others” advising them which streets are currently relatively safe for travel. Snipers are a frequent fact of daily life for the responders, whenever they are “on mission.”

One shift manager described “Google Live,” as a way of denoting on the Google Map an area of activity as it happens. That’s of paramount importance to rescue operations. His team has two problems as they try to secure this capability, one of which is that Google Live is forbidden by the US-led sanctions which, frankly, his team could care less about and they’ve already figured out how to hack into something to get it to work. The main problem is that they need Syrian government approval to set up Google Live properly. They are hoping to get it soon which will help SARCS emergency teams get to their destination faster and safer. How could the United Nations oppose that?

The main emergency operation center is an exciting beehive of activity, staffed by friendly people urgently working to help others. They are dressed in bright orange overalls plainly marked with “SARCS” in red letters. Their ambulances and other vehicles are similarly identified to distinguish them from the rescue vehicles operated by the Ministry of Health.

The reason this is important. Some rebels groups do not hesitate to target any ambulances with RPG’s and other weapons. The Al-Nusra Front and a few other groups insist SARCS ambulances should not be targeted. For example, the day the Yarmouk Palestinian Refugees camp was bombed three weeks ago, leaving many dead and wounded, SARCS ambulances managed to safely enter the camp despite the presence of Al-Nusra. They pulled out 30 victims in half a day.

Volunteers advised this observer that the reason their vehicles are
less likely to be targeted is that SARCS strictly complies with the
Hippocratic oath and keeps politics out of their work as best they can. As this observer witnessed several times first hand, when an emergency call comes in on the 133 line, the dispatcher asks only the location and injury assessment if available, employing the Red, Yellow, Green system. While giving medical care, SARCS volunteers are prohibited from inquiring about political views or details about the circumstances surrounding the injury.

No questions are asked whether the victim is pro or anti-government, sect, nationality, or political affiliation. If the victim has a weapon, the ambulance driver instructs friends of the victim at the scene to take the weapon as none are allowed on the stretcher or in SARCS vehicles.

This is one of the reasons that SARCS emergency response teams have won the general trust of Syrians and NGO’s, who by Syrian law are obliged to work with and consult with other departments of SARCS, such as Disaster Management, to get the international aid as fast as possible to where it is most needed.

There are places and times that the emergency vehicles cannot go. More than four dozen SARCS volunteers have been reported killed or injured while performing their humanitarian work. Yet every bombing and disaster in Syria these days brings more applications to join the SARC volunteer teams. Such is the character of the Syrian people.

Current shortages for emergency services in Syria include medicines, medical equipment, fuel, food, blankets and cooking utensils. Some of
these shortages are the direct and foreseeable result of the US-led
sanctions targeting the civilian population of Syria, with the hope that riots from the cold, malnourished, suffering civilian population will cause the elected Government of Syria to falter. Then the Western goal of regime change might succeed. Yet the history of sanctions targeting civilian populations makes clear that such inhumane punishment fails to achieve the intended political objective. Instead it raises the wrath of the civilian population, and benefits the government in power.

As current events are demonstrating, the designers of the US-led sanctions, who are housed on the second floor of the US Treasury building in Washington DC, including the Office of Financial Assets Control (OFAC), have once more failed to understand the nature and the quality of not only the Syrian people specifically, but civilians in general.

One wonders if, given the process the past few weeks of sanctions having the opposite of intended results, that foreign governments might now be realizing they might have committed serious “assessment errors” in Syria and might now be willing to come to the
negotiating table.

The first thing needed to end the killing and start rebuilding homes, hospitals, infrastructures and, equally essential, democratic freedoms for everyone in Syria, is the presence of those currently absent from the table– namely the Syrians. They are waiting.

Waiting also, is the Syrian Arab Republic Red Crescent Society (SARCS) emergency responders, who 24/7 are doing their life-saving humanitarian work for their country and for anyone who calls their emergency responders on 133.

A note from Blog Editor Susan Lindauer– Rarely has any group or individual deserved a Nobel Peace Prize like the Syrian Arab Republic Red Crescent Society. Certainly they deserve it more than President Barack Obama or Kofi Annan or other groups affiliated with the United Nations, like the U.N. Weapons Inspectors who harassed Baghdad viciously before the War, as puppets of the West, only to discover nothing for their Masters.

Here’s a group that deserves the Peace Prize! Bless them all!


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