Stretched on a stretcher, wrapped in a protective blanket, Mohammed Hamid, 13, is awaiting medical evacuation from an ambulance on the tarmac at Duhok Airport in northern Iraq. Local journalists are closely following the fate of this Kurdish teenager, who was badly burned while Turkey led a military expedition to Ras al-Ain in northern Syria. After several days of hardships and suffering and hundreds of kilometers of cross-border journeys, on Tuesday 22 October, Mohammed Hamid was finally transferred to France, where he is currently being treated.
The first reflex of Hamid's father was to take his son to a Kurdish hospital south of his hometown. But the doctors did not manage to treat the mysterious burns of which the young boy suffers. He was then transferred to Iraq in the Kurdish city of Duhok. Then the ambulance took him to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, from where he was finally able to take off for France.
ICYMI: Mohammed Hamid, a Kurdish boy who was severely burned in Turkey's northern city, was sentenced to death. #TwitterKurds
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Emmanuel Macron intervened personally
A diplomatic source confirmed to France 24 that "a young boy from northeastern Syria who had suffered severe and multiple burns had been transferred [Tuesday] to France from Erbil, so that he could benefit from treatment. This medical transfer was organized at the request of the Regional Government of Iraqi Kurdistan and with its close collaboration. "
This source, however, refused to provide further details on the state of health of Mohammed Hamid and the nature of the care he receives in France.
In a cryptic message posted on Twitter on the evening of 22 October, Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani thanked French President Emmanuel Macron, who would have personally intervened in the dossier.
President Macron, thank you and thank you to the people of France.Masoud Barzani (@masoud_barzani) October 22, 2019
The UN has opened an investigation into the use of chemical weapons
The medical evacuation of Mohammed Hamid comes as the UN commissioned experts to investigate the possible use of chemical weapons by Turkish forces. Erdogan's army is notably accused of using white phosphorus during their campaign in northeastern Syria, a region where Syrian Kurds live.
The Kurdish Red Crescent says at least six people, including soldiers and children, have been admitted to hospital with first- and second-degree burns due to an unidentified substance used by the Turks during from their assault on Ras al-Ain.
Turkey denies these allegations. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said in a press conference: "Everyone knows that there is no chemical weapon in the Turkish army's inventory."
However, white phosphorus is part of the standard military equipment because it can be legally used as a smoke screen during daytime fights and as an incendiary fire at night. But it is illegal to use it against civilians because it can cause serious and particularly painful burns in case of contact with the skin.
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For the Kurds - the largest stateless ethnic group in the world - chemical weapons are a particularly terrifying symbol: they revive the grim memory of Saddam Hussein's attack on Halabja in 1988, which claimed thousands of lives in that city Iraqi Kurdish.
"We do not know what caused these injuries"
The Kurdish authorities and humanitarians prefer to be cautious about the origin of the young Kurd's injuries: "His body was very badly burned, we do not know what caused the burns," said Rawaj Haji, spokesman for the Humanitarian NGO Barzani Charity foundation based in Erbil, interviewed by France 24. It is this association that handled the case of Mohammed Hamid. "The doctors say that some parts are burned at 53% and others at 70%, one of his hands is so burned that he can not use it anymore, he needs the help of professionals who can find the origin of these wounds and treat them. "
The Times of London showed pictures of the injured boy to a chemical weapons expert, who said the burns "look a lot like white phosphorus". For Hamish of Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert: "White phosphorus is a horrible weapon that can be used via aviation or artillery, it reacts to the moisture of the skin by intensifying burns, so that water can not soothe him. "
Syrian Kurds flee to Iraqi Kurdistan
Mohammed Hamid is now safe in France but it is unlikely that his family or even return him to their city of Syrian origin, Ras al-Ain.
Russian forces carried out their first patrols on Wednesday in this sector of northern Syria, as part of a Russian-Turkish agreement on the withdrawal of Kurdish forces.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey would not resume its offensive if Kurdish fighters withdrew from the border area. Despite the Russian-Turkish deal, a massive exodus of Syrian Kurds to Iraqi Kurdistan has begun.
"Refugees arrive hungry, tired and traumatized after walking for hours to cross the border," said Ravinder Singh, founder of UK-based Khalsa Aid, in a telephone interview with France 24. from the Syrian-Iraqi border.
Despite the ceasefire, Rawaj Haji of the humanitarian NGO Barzani Charity Foundation, said that the number of refugees continued to increase in recent days.
"These people have seen war, shots, conflicts, they have already been displaced in the past.This situation is so sad," sighs Rawaj Haji. "We are asking for more international support, because if it continues, we will need help."
Adapted from English by Romain Houeix.