SANA /Handout/EPA /Landov
Members of the U.N. observers mission in Syria visit wounded soldiers and policemen at Tishreen Military Hospital in Damascus on May 23. Casualties among Syrian government forces are rising sharply.
Members of the U.N. observers mission in Syria visit wounded soldiers and policemen at Tishreen Military Hospital in Damascus on May 23. Casualties among Syrian government forces are rising sharply. SANA /Handout/EPA /Landov
Syrian activists have posted thousands of videos of civilians killed and wounded in the 15-month-old conflict. But there have been many casualties on the government side as well, and they are on display at a military hospital in the capital, Damascus.
For Abdul Kareem Mustapha, a 51-year-old colonel in the Syrian army, the war came for him at 8:15 a.m. on his way to his military post.
Mustapha is among the wounded. He says he was on his way to work, riding in a military car with several others, when two taxis cut them off. Armed men started shooting, he says, killing one of the four officers in the car and wounding the others.
The colonel's fresh bandages are on his stomach and hands. He is sure his attackers were rebels from the Free Syrian Army. But he doesn't call them that. He says they are "terrorists" financed from outside Syria.
Government Casualties Mounting
Analysts and pundits are still debating how to define the Syrian fighting. On Tuesday, the U.N. under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Herve Ladsous, told Reuters that the Syrian conflict could be called a civil war and that the government has lost control of parts of some cities to the rebels.
Col. Abdul Kareem Mustapha, 51, is being treated at Barzeh military hospital in Damascus. He was wounded in the Syrian capital Tuesday during an ambush by armed men in taxis that killed one of his fellow passengers.
However the fighting is defined, it's clear that the casualties are mounting.
An army general runs the military hospital. His office has two life-size photographs of Syrian President Bashar Assad on the walls. The general does not want his own picture — or his name — published.
Assassinations of military personnel have been rising in Damascus, and the general is willing to reveal some alarming statistics. He says the casualty rate for soldiers has doubled since U.N. monitors arrived. The first contingent arrived in mid-April.
On average, he says, 15 soldiers die and 15 are injured every day in the capital. (There was no way to independently verify the figures provided by the general.)
At night, the general says, he can hear shooting from his office. It's where he works and sleeps. It's too dangerous to drive back home, he says.
Back on the ward, many wounded soldiers are struggling with severe injuries. Many were inflicted by army deserters — men who once served on the same side.
Lt. Haithem al-Bukai, 24, says he was shot by a sniper in the northern province of Idlib a few days ago. A government escort translates and helps him with his remarks.
The rebels in Idlib are young, he says, about 16 or 17. Bukai also says they are well-armed, with sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and even anti-tank weapons.
But it's impossible to confirm the Free Syrian Army's armory.
Syrian activists say they have knocked out nearly 30 tanks. The burned remains of one tank were parked on the highway in central Syria, one place where the army has been on the offensive.
The army's shelling has been relentless against the rebels based in residential neighborhoods in Homs. Civilians have been trapped in the fighting.
'We Have 500 Revolutions In Syria'
The U.N. has called the violence unacceptable. On Tuesday, outside the northwestern town of Haffa in the foothills above Syria's Mediterranean coast, monitors say they were confronted by angry pro-government mobs. The mobs threw stones and metal bars to stop the convoy from entering the rebel-held town surrounded by the army.
The heaviest fighting is still far from the capital, says Bshir Said, an opposition activist. He explains that Syria has many revolutions — every neighborhood and every town has a different story.
"So you can see demonstrations in a place and you can see fighting and war in another place, and in other places [it's] very quiet and very easy. We have 500 revolutions in Syria," he says.
Damascus was one of those calm places Tuesday, but the rising number of casualties at the military hospital there shows that the different revolutions are now coming together.
Another activist, who wouldn't give him name for fear of arrest, says that Damascus is watching and waiting.
"For us, it's not a civil war yet. It's a very serious dangerous problem. We hope not to reach this point," he says.