The New York Times

The War Without and the War Within

On a hazy morning this spring, at the entrance of the Al-Bayrouni cancer center in northeast Damascus, a wall of tires teetered atop a long mound of dirt. Where there were no tires, jagged sheets of metal or rusting barrels had been propped up to create a makeshift shield. The 500-bed facility, the biggest oncology hospital in Syria, stands on the edge of an old highway, near the Al-Assad and Harasta suburbs, overlooking an active front line between government and opposition forces. For the government, the highway is a direct supply line to the police hospital and barracks beside the cancer center. For the opposition, controlling the road would provide them a chance to break a siege that has left most medical facilities destroyed or empty.

From the guard’s bunker, the face of Bashar Assad surveyed those arriving through dark aviator glasses. Throughout the hospital, too, Assad’s face beamed down from portraits hung on nearly every ward. On the side of the building that faced the front line, many wards lay empty, scattered with unplugged monitoring machines. Divots in corridors marked where shrapnel had knocked chunks of plaster from the walls.

That day, like most days in recent months, the rainbow row of colored seats leading to the ward for children with cancer were almost all empty. Most of the mothers and fathers who did make it to this waiting area had faced a harrowing choice: Travel with their children to a hospital that overlooked

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