GENEVA — French surgeon Jacques Beres has operated in war zones for 40 years, but he says the carnage in Syria is among the most horrific he has ever witnessed.
Beres smuggled himself into the battered Syrian city of Homs for two weeks in February, setting up a makeshift hospital in a home where he operated on 89 wounded in a span of 12 days. Many were elderly or children. He saved most of them, but nine died on the operating table.
At a meeting of human rights activists Tuesday in Geneva, the 71-year-old Parisian — apparently the only Western doctor to get into Homs — spoke with passion about the bloodshed and the horrific conditions.
"This is a hell," said Beres, a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders and Doctors of the World who has worked in war zones including Vietnam, Rwanda and Iraq. "It's mass murder. It's totally unfair. It's unjustifiable."
Beres went to Syria at the request of two groups, France-Syrie Democracy and the Union of Muslim Associations in France. He crossed the border illegally from Lebanon to set up his operating table in an abandoned home with three beds.
He said his biggest challenges were the basics: scarce electricity and finding enough room for stretchers.
Beres said people in Homs, the heart of the Syrian rebellion, lived in despair despite their gratitude to journalists for telling the world of their plight.
"They say it's good that you're thinking about us, but they say it doesn't give us food, medicine or weapons," he told the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.
The Syrian uprising began last March with mostly peaceful protests in several impoverished provinces. As security forces violently suppressed them, killing thousands, the protests escalated into an armed insurrection.
The U.N. refugee agency said 230,000 Syrians have fled their homes since the uprising began. The United Nations says more than 7,500 people have been killed. Activist groups say the death toll has surpassed 8,000.