BEIRUT – Gunmen stormed a Syrian hospital that is caring for a baby girl who was born under the rubble of her family’s earthquake-shattered home, and the attackers beat the facility's director, a hospital official said Tuesday.
The official denied reports on social media that the Monday night attack was an attempt to kidnap the infant named Aya — Arabic for “a sign from God.” She has been at the hospital since hours after the Feb. 6. earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria. Her parents and four siblings died in the disaster.
Aya's story has been widely shared in news reports, and people from around the world have offered to help her.
The official, who spoke on 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 official said.
The director's wife has been breast-feeding Aya, her doctor said previously.
Upon arrival at the hospital, the gunmen told police officers protecting the girl that they were going after the director for firing their friend and were not interested in Aya, according to the official.
Police began guarding the girl after several people showed up falsely claiming to be her relatives, the doctor said.
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 as they were digging through the wreckage of the five-story apartment building where her parents lived.
Buried under the concrete, the baby was still connected by her umbilical cord to her mother, Afraa Abu Hadiya. She was rushed to the hospital in nearby Afrin, where she has been cared for since.
The devastating quake reduced many communities in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria to piles of broken concrete and twisted metal. More than 35,000 people were killed, a toll expected to rise 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 the village, said al-Badran, an uncle of Aya’s father.