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Kurdish boy severely burned with white phosphorus during Turkish offensive arrives in France for treatment

The burns on the screaming child brought into the Syrian-Kurdish hospital at Tal Tamir were enough to reduce even hardened medical staff to silence.

Strapped to a stretcher, his body secured in protective covering, the young boy emerged from an ambulance on Tuesday onto the tarmac of Duhok airport in northern Iraq, where a local journalist on a live feed covered a medical evacuation that was being closely followed in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region.

Mohammed Hamid, a 13-year-old Syrian Kurdish boy from Ras al-Ayn, a town on the Syria-Turkey border, suffered severe burns last week as a Turkish military incursion pushed into northern Syria. After an ordeal spanning days and hundreds of miles of cross-border travel, Hamid was finally making his way to France for treatment.

Hamid’s father initially took his injured son to a Syrian Kurdish hospital south of his hometown, where medics struggled to treat the little boy suffering from hellish, mysterious burns. The young boy was then transported across Syria’s eastern border into the Iraqi Kurdish city of Duhok. On Tuesday, Hamid was medevaced from Duhok to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, for the final lap of his journey to France.

A French diplomatic source on Wednesday confirmed to FRANCE 24 that, “a young boy from northeastern Syria, a victim of severe and multiple burns, was transferred last night to France from Erbil in order to benefit from treatment adapted to the gravity of his case. This medical transfer was organised at the request and in close cooperation with the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq.”

The source however declined to provide details of Hamid’s condition or of the medical care he is receiving in France.

In a cryptic message posted on Twitter Tuesday night, veteran Iraqi Kurdish politician Massoud Barzani thanked French President Emmanuel Macron and “the people of France,” leading some journalists on social media to, “wonder where this comes from?”

Hamid’s ordeal was witnessed by a Times of London journalist last week shortly after the burn victim was brought to a hospital in Tal Amr, around 40 kilometres south of Hamid’s hometown of Ras al-Ayn. The boy’s family had made an all-night, 12-hour journey through a conflict zone and little Hamid had been without morphine or painkillers for half-a-day by the time he was admitted into the hospital.

Times journalist Anthony Loyd reported how people moaning from war injuries at the hospital fell silent with Hamid’s bloodcurdling cries of “Dad, Dad, stop the burning!” until a nurse managed to pump morphine into the screaming child.

The UK daily showed photographs of the injured boy to a chemical weapons expert who said it “very much looks like it was caused by white phosphorus”. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert, told the Times that: “White phosphorus is a horrific weapon, which can be delivered by aircraft or artillery. It reacts to the moisture in the skin in a way that intensifies its burning, so that water cannot put it out.”

A Kurdish Red Crescent team was set to visit Sari Kani on last Friday in a bid to evacuate the injured, but has been prevented from entering the city by Turkish-backed forces. 

Hamid’s evacuation comes as UN chemical weapons inspectors are investigating reports that Turkish forces used chemical weapons, possibly munitions loaded with white phosphorus, during their military campaign in Kurdish-dominated northeastern Syria.

The Kurdish Red Crescent said at least six Kurds, including children and combatants, were admitted to hospital last week with first-and-second-degree burns from an unknown substance following the Turkish assault on Ras al-Ayn.

For the Kurds – the world’s largest stateless ethnic group that has been historically betrayed by colonial and postcolonial superpowers – chemical weapons have a particularly terrifying symbolism following a 1988 chemical weapons attack by Saddam Hussein on Halabja, which killed thousands in the Iraqi Kurdish city.

Hamid may be safely in France now but he and his family are unlikely to return anytime soon to their Syrian hometown, Ras al-Ain, as Russian military police began patrols on the Syria-Turkey border following an agreement between Moscow and Ankara,

Header image: Mohammed Hamid is suffering from severe burns after he was injured during the Turkish offensive to take Sari Kani. Photo: Rudaw


Source: FRANCE 24 & RUDAW