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Hundreds of wounded civilians trapped in embattled Syria town, doctor says

Residents of Qusair stand amid rubble after a Syrian military air strike. The town remains under siege.
Residents of Qusair stand amid rubble after a Syrian military air strike. The town remains under siege.AP

At least 300 seriously wounded residents of an embattled Syrian town near the border with Lebanon need to be evacuated for medical treatment, a doctor told The Associated Press on Monday, as fighting in Qusair raged for the third straight week.

Kasem Alzein, who coordinates treatment in several makeshift hospitals in Qusair, said the wounded are being treated in private homes after the town's main hospital was destroyed during fighting between the Syrian army — backed by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas — and rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad's regime.

Speaking to the AP from Qusair via Skype, Alzein pleaded for help, saying evacuation efforts by local medical teams had failed after a convoy was attacked last week and 13 of the wounded were killed. He said medical supplies are running out and doctors treating the wounded most urgently need oxygen to keep the 300 people — mostly women, children and elderly — alive.

"The humanitarian and medical conditions are terrible," Alzein said, adding that no medical supplies have reached the town since the government launched an offensive on Qusair May 19. "We are treating people in homes in an unsterilized environment. We tried to evacuate the wounded and we can't. No one is helping us."

Alzein said 50 abandoned homes around Qusair have been turned into makeshift hospitals. Four of the homes have been converted into operating theatres. He said the doctors had stocked up on medical supplies, but they are running out of antibiotics, bandages and anesthetics. Oxygen supplies are already exhausted, he added.

The shelling of the town continued Monday, Alzein said. "Every day we have new wounded."

Appeals by the United Nations and other aid organizations to allow humanitarian workers to enter Qusair have gone unheeded by authorities in Damascus as fighting drags on and neither side has been able to deliver a decisive blow. Syrian regime troops and fighters from Hezbollah have gained ground, but rebels have been able to defend some positions and appear to be dug in the north and west of the town.

On Sunday, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem to express concern over the situation in Qusair, according to Syria's state-run news agency SANA. However, al-Moallem told the U.N. chief that the Red Cross and other aid agencies will only be able to enter Qusair "after the end of military operations there," SANA said.

The European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva, on Monday said she was joining the U.N and the Red Cross in appealing for a safe passage for civilians in the town, describing the situation in Qusair as a "tragedy."

"In a moment like this we must together all raise our voices ever more loudly until our protests can no longer be ignored," she said in a statement.