Critically ill Syrians evacuated from Eastern Ghouta

Deal allows evacuation of 12 critically ill patients, most of them children, from government-besieged Eastern Ghouta.

    At least 12 critically ill patients have been evacuated from a suburb of Syria's capital Damascus, while more residents in need of urgent medical care are expected to be removed from the besieged area, according to humanitarian groups.

    The evacuees, a majority of whom were children, were taken to Damascus to receive medical treatment, according to the Syria branch of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

    Aid agencies have been evacuating critically ill Syrians from Eastern Ghouta, an area home to about 400,000 people that has been under a government-imposed siege since 2013, after a deal was reached with the Syrian government.

    The evacuation began on Wednesday night in collaboration with the Syrian Red Crescent.

    "Happy that our negotiations reached this important goal. This is a signal of hope for the future," Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of the Red Cross, said on Twitter.

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    Children comprise about half of the population in Eastern Ghouta, which is one of the last Syrian rebel strongholds.

    Medical supplies and food have been in short supply in the area.

    The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a medical relief organisation based in the US, said the evacuations would continue on Thursday.

    A total of 29 patients are expected to be evacuated from the area under the deal.

    "Only 107 doctors remain in the area to provide care to a population of 400,000, including 130,000 children, while facing a severe shortage of medical supplies," said Dr Ahmad Tarakji, SAMS president, in a statement.

    Eighteen children were among the evacuees from Eastern Ghouta [Bassam Khabieh/Reuters]

    The group said the list of evacuees includes 18 children and four women "suffering from heart disease, cancer, kidney failure, and blood diseases", among other medical ailments.

    A total of 641 people are in need of urgent medical care, it said.

    Eastern Ghouta was designated as one of a handful of "de-escalation zones" in Syria last year.

    These ceasefire agreements between Syrian state forces and rebel fighters were brokered by Iran, Russia and Turkey, but many residents do not trust the deals.

    Last month, the UN said at least 500 people in need of urgent medical attention should be allowed to leave the area.

    The Syrian government has allowed some aid to reach residents, but the UN says it only has enough supplies to provide about 10 percent of the besieged population with assistance.

    Syria's conflict, which started with peaceful anti-government demonstrations in March 2011, escalated into a full-blown war that has claimed more than 300,000 lives and driven about half of the country's prewar population of 22 million from their homes.

    Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are battling rebel groups opposed to his rule, as well as fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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