Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Ras al Ain following an attack from Turkey 101019 CREDIT PA

Chemical Weapons Could Not Subdue Syria's People - But Biological Terror Of COVID Probably Will

After nine years of fighting, coronavirus may prove to be too much for those battling Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Ras al Ain following an attack from Turkey 101019 CREDIT PA

By Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE, former British Army officer and former commanding officer of the UK's Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment and NATO's Rapid Reaction CBRN Battalion.

When we all thought things could not get any worse, COVID-19 reared its very ugly head.

With the globe under biological attack from this pathogen, thought and help for those trapped in Idlib is in very short supply.

This is the worst biological terror story you could ever imagine – if you wrote it as a fiction novel it would be considered over the top.

A silent disease infesting the globe, killing thousands, with medical counter measures in the form of vaccines some way off.

The weirdos and fruitcakes of the globe suggest this is God’s way to clean up the world, getting rid of pollution and the old and infirm.

It makes the likes of 'I Am Pilgrim' and other chemical or biological horror stories pail into nothing.

For the thousands trapped in the Rukban camp near the Jordanian border, COVID came just when this looked like things might be improving.

In mid-March, I got a call from the camp to say there were five women in desperate need of C-sections, but were trapped in the camp because of COVID.

A building reduced to rubble in Idlib last year (Picture: PA).

In normal times, they would have transferred to Jordan to be treated there, but the border is shut.

There are no medical facilities left in Rukban.

Then, a number of NGOs and activists got in touch pleading with me to help. What on earth could I do?

I spoke to 'senior' people in the Government, the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development and the basic answer was – everyone is focused on COVID in the UK with little appetite for anything else.

I scratched my head and thought, 'There must be something we could do?'

I remembered that there is a Special Forces base at Al-Tanf, an air base a few kilometres from Rukban.

I have a couple of special numbers I use sparingly and asked if a message could be sent to the UK Special Forces (UKSF) at Tanf to see if they could airlift the ladies to hospitals in North East Syria, where the C-sections could happen.

I was told there were no UKSF there, but the message reached the American Special Forces through Middle East Minister James Cleverly and, hey presto, one of the ladies was taken to Tanf.

Armed soldiers of the Syrian government paroling after taking control of the Rashideen district near the Aleppo-Damascus highway 110220 CREDIT SANA DPA PA images.jpg
Syrian Government soldiers patrolling after taking control of the Rashideen district near Aleppo (Credit: PA).

There, she had a C-section, enabled by a US surgeon via Skype, on the evening of 30 March and now both the mother and baby are in good health.

A little ray of sunshine in these difficult times.

Yet another terrible fact of the Syrian conflict is that Assad should be helping his people, and this includes with COVID.

Like other dictators and despots, he is yet to admit that Syria has the virus, though the UN and WHO are very clear that it is all over Syria.

Perhaps he will help those in Regime areas, but it is clear that for Idlib, he probably views it as the ‘final solution.’

He has destroyed most of the hospitals and killed most of the doctors and medics who would be helping those in Idlib fight this disease.

It is likely that COVID will finish off resistance in Idlib where Assad could not.

For those stuck in Idlib after nine years of fighting, who have fled from all over Syria, this does appear to be the end game.

They weathered the storm of the tyrant for nine years, but the virus is different.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin 070120 CREDIT PA.jpg
Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad (Credit: PA).

It attacks the weak and infirm, which is a huge majority of those left in Idlib.

The medical workers of the Idlib Health Directorate are valiantly trying to fight the virus, but they have few weapons, virtually no PPE, medicines, decontaminants etc.

It is not the lack of loo rolls in Syrian shops that shocks people, there is just not much food to talk of.

I realise charity begins at home, but I’m scrabbling around for a few protection hoods and paracetamol for the handful of clinics left to look after the 3 million refugees.

Some estimates say 100,000 people will die in Idlib from COVID, for some that will be a blessed relief.

When this is all over, both COVID and the Syrian conflict, we in the free world need to take a very hard look at ourselves on what we have and have not done in Syria.

With the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust still fresh in our minds, we have allowed another atrocity on a biblical scale to unfold on our watch.

Maybe the biological terror of COVID will make us all a bit more likely to help others in future, not just our neighbours in the street, but also in ‘society’ which we hear so much about?

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE is a former soldier. He was commanding officer of the UK Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment and NATO's Rapid Reaction CBRN Battalion. He is currently the director at 'Doctors Under Fire'.

Cover image: PA.