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Syria's first line of Defense: Dial 133

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Syria's first line of Defense: Dial 133

Franklin Lamb

Damascus -- There are more than 9000 of them. Predominately young but
of all ages and all volunteers. Often risking their lives working a
twelve-hour shift as many as seven days a week at the Syrian Arab Republic
Red Crescent Society (SARCS) Emergency Operation center.

  Located at The New Zahera (blooming flowers) 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 region and the West receive training as qualified paramedics. Maybe
two-thirds of those this observer spent a day with recently 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"

In the Operations Center main room, 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 told this observer about something he called "Google
Live," a way of denoting on the Google Map an area of activity as it happens,
which is of great help to the operations. His team has two problems as they
try to secure this capability, one of which is that GL 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 and are hoping to get it soon which will help SARCS emergency
teams get to their destination faster and safer.

The main emergency operation center is an exciting beehive of activity
staffed by friendly people urgently working to help others. They are all
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 is because 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 get into the camp despite the presence of
Al-Nusra and pulled out 30 victims in half a day.

Volunteers advised this observer that the reason their vehicles are rather
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 it is prohibited for SARCS volunteers to inquire 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 daily 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 and the Western goal of
regime change will succeed. As the history of sanctions targeting civilian
populations makes clear, such inhumane punishment fails to achieve the
intended political objective but simply 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 may now be
realizing they might have committed some "assessment errors" in Syria
and, in reassessing their objectives, may 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.

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Since 2013, Professor Franklin P. Lamb has traveled extensively throughout Syria. His primary focus has been to document, photograph, research and hopefully help preserve the vast and irreplaceable archaeological sites and artifacts in (more...)

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