ICRC calls medical evacuation in Syria 'a positive step'

Frederick Owens
December 28, 2017

The UN has a list of almost 500 people it says are in need of urgent medical evacuation, though on Wednesday only 29 people were slated to be taken out of Eastern Ghouta - the string of suburbs where Syrian government forces have besieged almost 400,000 people since 2013.

The Syrian army, backed by Russian air power and militia allies, has systematically cleared of insurgents the northern, western and southwestern approaches to the city and re-established control. "This is a signal of hope for the future Syria", Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of the Red Cross, wrote in a tweet.

The siege of Eastern Ghouta has intensified in the last six months as government forces successfully cut routes that had allowed some goods into the area, causing food prices to skyrocket and dozens of reports of deaths related to malnutrition. Four critically-ill patients were reportedly taken out overnight by teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC).

"That number is going down, not because we are evacuating people but because they are dying", he said. But there was no indication of whether more evacuations would be allowed, he added.

The United Nations has been waiting for months to gain approval from the Syrian authorities, and last week Jan Egeland, the organization's humanitarian adviser for Syria, said the situation was getting worse, with 494 people on the priority list for medical evacuations; the medical society said more than 600 needed evacuation.

ICRC calls medical evacuation in Syria 'a positive step'

Although Eastern Ghouta is officially a "de-escalation zone" under Russian-led ceasefire deals for rebel territory, fighting there has continued.

Eastern Ghouta medical evacuations begin following "long negotiations". The U.N. said that nearly 12% of children are suffering from acute malnutrition.

Another 25 should be evacuated in the coming days as part of a deal agreed by the government and rebels, though hundreds more are in need of treatment.

"The list includes 18 children and 4 women suffering from heart disease, cancer, kidney failure, and blood diseases, in addition to cases requiring advanced surgery that are not available in the besieged area", it said.

SAMS said evacuations had begun for at least 29 people in critical condition. "Because of the ongoing siege and the shortage of medical supplies, 17 patients at least have died over the past few months because they were not able to access medical care", SAMS said.

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