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Gunmen storm hospital of newborn saved from quake in Syria

Aya’s mother died after giving birth to her in the aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake
Mourners bury family members who died in a devastating earthquake that rocked Syria and Turkey at a cemetery in the town of Jinderis, Aleppo province, Syria, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. A newborn girl was found buried under debris with her umbilical cord still connected to her mother, Afraa Abu Hadiya, who was found dead, according to relatives and a doctor. The baby was the only member of her family to survive from the building collapse Monday in Jinderis, next to the Turkish border, Ramadan Sleiman, a relative, told The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)

Gunmen stormed a hospital in north Syria where a baby girl is receiving care after being born under the rubble of her family’s earthquake-shattered home, a hospital official said Tuesday, adding that the attackers beat the clinic’s director.

The official denied reports on social media claiming that the Monday night attack was an attempt to kidnap the infant, named Aya — Arabic for “a sign from God.” Aya has been at the hospital since hours after the Feb. 6. earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria. Her mother, father and four siblings died in the disaster.

Aya has been closely followed since her birth and people from around the world have been offering to help her.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the hospital’s director had suspected that a nurse who was taking pictures of Aya was planning to kidnap her and kicked him out of the hospital. The nurse returned hours later accompanied by gunmen who beat up the director. The director’s wife has been breast-feeding Aya.

Upon arrival at the hospital, the gunmen told local police officers protecting the girl that they were going after the director for firing their friend. They said they were not interested in Aya, according to the official.

Several people had shown up falsely claiming to be Aya’s relatives, prompting local policemen to guard her.

Aya’s mother died after giving birth to her in the aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria. Her father and four siblings were also killed in the quake.

Aya may be able to leave the hospital as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday, according to her great-uncle, Saleh al-Badran. He said the baby’s paternal aunt, who recently gave birth and survived the quake, will raise her.

Rescue workers in the northern Syrian town of Jinderis discovered the dark-haired baby girl more than 10 hours after the quake hit, as they were digging through the wreckage of the five-story apartment building where her parents lived.

Buried under the concrete, the baby still was connected by her umbilical cord to her mother, Afraa Abu Hadiya. The baby was rushed to the hospital in nearby Afrin, where she has been cared for since.

The devastating quake followed by a series of tremors that struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria reduced many of the towns and cities inhabited by millions to fragments of concrete and twisted metal. More than 35,000 people were killed, a toll expected to rise considerably as search teams find more bodies.

The earthquake destroyed dozens of housing units in the town of Jinderis, where Aya’s family had been living since 2018.

Aya’s father, Abdullah Turki Mleihan, was originally from the village of Khsham in eastern Deir el-Zour province, but left in 2014 after the Islamic State group captured their village, said al-Badran, an uncle of Aya’s father.

—Bassem Mroue, The Associated Press