Doctors Risk Their Lives To Treat Syrian Protesters Syria began withdrawing army tanks Tuesday from the restive city of Homs, an opposition stronghold. There, doctors often treat injured anti-government protesters in an underground network.
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Doctors Risk Their Lives To Treat Syrian Protesters

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Doctors Risk Their Lives To Treat Syrian Protesters

Doctors Risk Their Lives To Treat Syrian Protesters

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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Syria has allowed international observers into the country. They come from Syria's neighbors in the Arab League.

INSKEEP: And one of the places they're going is a center of violence, as Syria's government cracks down on protesters. The city of Homs is an opposition stronghold that's been under siege by the Syrian army.

WERTHEIMER: We don't know what the observers will see, but we're getting our own glimpses through the stories of those trying to help the protesters. Syrian doctors risk their lives to help the wounded. They're supported by a network of smugglers in neighboring Lebanon who get medical equipment in and get the most seriously wounded out.

NPR's Deborah Amos reports.


DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: This sparsely furnished apartment in northern Lebanon is the first stop on the medical smuggling route.

This is the warehouse. It's in a bedroom. That's stethoscopes. These are bandages.

MOHAMMED: Bandage, yes. Amino plasma.

AMOS: Bottles of plasma.

A young Syrian named Mohammed has been running this underground supply line since May. It's a lifeline for the Syrian city of Homs, just 30 miles away. Surrounded by the army, under heavy shelling, the wounded are too afraid to go to the state hospitals.

MOHAMMED: (Through translator) We still need many things that we are not able to secure: x-rays, surgical equipment for bone surgeries, anesthesia.

AMOS: Are you saving lives, do you think?

MOHAMMED: (Through translator) It's an attempt to save lives. Some we are able to save, others we are not.



AMOS: Mohammed makes arrangements with a trusted crew of smugglers. The boxes are broken down into smaller packages for the hazardous journey in trucks, motor cycles, even donkeys on border crossings that are heavily mined and patrolled.

MOHAMMED: (Through translator) Which road, where he will drop it, what they need, what is the shortage, what they need to send from here.

AMOS: And do you do that every day?

MOHAMMED: Yeah. (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: Every day.

MOHAMMED: Every day.

AMOS: This everyday traffic goes both ways. The makeshift clinics inside Syria can only do so much - stop the bleeding and some of the pain. The most seriously wounded - often with multiple gun-shot wounds - are smuggled into Lebanon.

This is one office of the underground clinics on the border between Lebanon and Syria. We can't say where we are. We can't even tell you the doctor's name. He says his wife doesn't even know that he's doing this. But when there are wounded on the Syrian side, he gets the first call.

This Lebanese doctor says it's his duty to help.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Through translator) I go to the border. I meet with the wounded person. I conduct basic first aid.

AMOS: Treatment is often in the back of his car, until he can drive to his clinic for more intensive care.


AMOS: In this Lebanese farming community, families open their homes to Syrians who need long-term recovery.


AMOS: These are Syrians here?

A spare room serves as a hospital room for 30-year-old Rabih al-Zain. His shattered leg is wrapped in bandages.

RABIH AL-ZAIN: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: Syrian security police opened fire on demonstrations, he says, in his village near Homs. When he tried to help the wounded, he was shot repeatedly in the leg.

In a nearby farm house, a 19-year-old Syrian army deserter props himself up on a pillow when visitors arrive. He stepped on a mine on the border a few weeks ago and lost his leg below the knee.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: I never got the chance to fight. I didn't have any weapons, he says. The state hospital in his Syrian village has been turned into a military barracks, he says, adding: They would have killed me if I'd gone there for help.

His mother weeps when she hears him talk about the explosion that severed his leg. She crossed the border as soon as she heard he was in Lebanon.

I'm afraid, she says softly. I have nine children. We're under a lot of pressure. I still have family inside.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Beirut.

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