A Wounded Child In Aleppo, Silent And Still, Shocks The World
Surrounded by shouting, he's completely silent.
The child is small, alone, covered in blood and dust, dropped in the back of an ambulance with his feet dangling off the edge of a too-big chair.
He doesn't cry or speak. His face is stunned and dazed, but not surprised. He wipes his hand over his wounded face, looks at the blood, wipes it off on the chair.
And he stares.
The world is staring back.
The past several years have seen a flood of horrific photos from the war in Syria: starving children, wounded civilians, mourning crowds, devastated cities, the many dead.
But this tiny moment in Aleppo has resonated in a new way.
Last year, the photograph of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian 3-year-old who drowned and washed ashore in Turkey, intensified Europe's conversations about the refugee crisis and moral responsibility. Now the image of the boy in the ambulance is bringing new attention to the ongoing agonies of the Syrian conflict.
The video was released by the Aleppo Media Center, an anti-government activist group in Syria, The Associated Press reports. It adds:
"A doctor in Aleppo on Thursday identified the boy as 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh. Osama Abu al-Ezz confirmed he was brought to the hospital known as 'M10' Wednesday night following an airstrike on the rebel-held neighborhood of Qaterji. ...
"Rescue workers and journalists arrived at Qaterji shortly after the strike and began pulling victims from the rubble.
" 'We were passing them from one balcony to the other,' said photojournalist Mahmoud Raslan, who took the iconic photo. He said he had passed along three lifeless bodies before receiving the wounded boy.
"A doctor at M10 later reported eight dead, among them five children."
Medical facilities in Syria are routinely hit by government forces. As a result, hospitals have been pushed underground and use code names, such as M10.
Reporter Ben Taub wrote about those hospitals, and the doctors who stay in Syria to staff them, for The New Yorker. He spoke to NPR about the devastating scenes at these makeshift hospitals.
Without adequate facilities, supplies, staffing or basic infrastructure, doctors in Syria find themselves frequently unable to do much more than watch their patients die.
But the boy in the ambulance was lucky.
He had a head injury but no brain damage and was treated at the hospital then released, al-Ezz, the doctor, told the AP.
Mohamad Al Ahmed Aburajab, a nurse who took care of the boy, tells NPR, "His blood pressure was very low. ... We took care of the wound and stitched it. ... Omran was not speaking at all ... [but] after about two hours, [he] was back to normal and we thank God."
The rest of his family reportedly was rescued — his mother, his father and his siblings, ages 1, 6 and 11. They all escaped major injury.
"We sent the younger children immediately to the ambulance, but the 11-year-old girl waited for her mother to be rescued. Her ankle was pinned beneath the rubble," Raslan, the photojournalist, told the AP.
Shortly after the family was rescued, their damaged apartment building collapsed, Raslan says.
The Syrian Civil Defense — the volunteer lifesaving organization commonly known as the White Helmets — saved the family's life.
Bibars Halabi is the White Helmet volunteer who carried Omran to the ambulance.
"My heart breaks for Omran but people need to know this happens everyday," he told the advocacy group The Syrian Campaign.
"Every day we rescue children and families. Every day I meet traumatized parents for losing a child or even not being able to find the body under the rubble.
"Just this time it was caught on camera."
NPR's Noor Wazwaz contributed to this story.