Fifteen of the last remaining doctors in rebel-controlled areas of the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo challenged President Barack Obama on Thursday to intervene and "prove that you are the friend of Syrians."
"For five years, we have faced death from above on a daily basis," the doctors wrote in an open letter, referring to airstrikes by government and allied forces that have besieged the city.
"But we now face death from all around," they wrote saying it's only a matter of time before "hunger takes hold and hospitals' supplies run completely dry."
The letter stated that U.S. "inaction" meant the United States shared responsibility "for the crimes of the Syrian government and its Russian ally."
"We do not need tears or sympathy or even prayers," read the letter, the full text of which is below. "We need your action. Prove that you are the friend of Syrians."
An administration official confirmed that the White House had received the letter.
Elizabeth Trudeau, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said Washington was working through the United Nations and was seeking to engage with Russia to find a diplomatic solution to "allow unimpeded lifesaving humanitarian assistance into areas like Aleppo."
"We commend the bravery of medical professionals across Syria who are working every day in perilous circumstances with minimal supplies to save lives," she said.
Russia said it would begin suspending airstrikes for three hours every day to allow humanitarian convoys to pass into the city. But the United States said that was inadequate.
"The U.N. has come out and said the three hours are not enough. We support the U.N. on this," Trudeau said, while adding: "Any pause is good — anything that cuts the violence."
Trudeau, meanwhile, said the United States hadn't been able to confirm widespread reports that chlorine gas was dropped on Aleppo early Thursday, killing as many as four people. But she said it was worrying that such reports were becoming increasingly common.
Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy for the Syria crisis, said Thursday morning that U.N. experts were investigating the reports.
"There is a lot of evidence that it actually did take place," he said after a meeting of the U.N. Humanitarian Access Task Force. "If it did take place, it is a war crime."
Full text of Aleppo doctors' letter to President Barack Obama
Dear President Obama,
We are 15 of the last doctors serving the remaining 300,000 citizens of eastern Aleppo. Regime troops have sought to surround and blockade the entire east of the city. Their losses have meant that a trickle of food has made its way into eastern Aleppo for the first time in weeks. Whether we live or die seems to be dependent on the ebbs and flows of the battlefield.
We have seen no effort on behalf of the United States to lift the siege or even use its influence to push the parties to protect civilians.
For five years, we have faced death from above on a daily basis. But we now face death from all around. For five years, we have borne witness as countless patients, friends and colleagues suffered violent, tormented deaths. For five years, the world has stood by and remarked how "complicated" Syria is, while doing little to protect us. Recent offers of evacuation from the regime and Russia have sounded like thinly-veiled threats to residents — flee now or face annihilation.
Last month, there were 42 attacks on medical facilities in Syria, 15 of which were hospitals in which we work. Right now, there is an attack on a medical facility every 17 hours. At this rate, our medical services in Aleppo could be completely destroyed in a month, leaving 300,000 people to die.
What pains us most, as doctors, is choosing who will live and who will die. Young children are sometimes brought into our emergency rooms so badly injured that we have to prioritize those with better chances, or simply don't have the equipment to help them. Two weeks ago, four newborn babies gasping for air suffocated to death after a blast cut the oxygen supply to their incubators. Gasping for air, their lives ended before they had really begun.
Despite the horror, we choose to be here. We took a pledge to help those in need.
Our dedication to this pledge is absolute. Some of us were visiting our families when we heard the city was being besieged. So we rushed back — some on foot because the roads were too dangerous. Because without us even more of our friends and neighbors will die. We have a duty to remain and help.
Continued US inaction to protect the civilians of Syria means that our plight is being wilfully tolerated by those in the international corridors of power. The burden of responsibility for the crimes of the Syrian government and its Russian ally must therefore be shared by those, including the United States, who allow them to continue.
Unless a permanent lifeline to Aleppo is opened it will be only a matter of time until we are again surrounded by regime troops, hunger takes hold and hospitals' supplies run completely dry. Death has seemed increasingly inescapable. We do not need to tell you that the systematic targeting of hospitals by Syrian regime and Russian warplanes is a war crime. We do not need to tell you that they are committing atrocities in Aleppo.
We do not need tears or sympathy or even prayers, we need your action. Prove that you are the friend of Syrians.