Syria: Eastern Ghouta medical evacuations begin following 'long negotiations'

Syria: Eastern Ghouta medical evacuations begin following 'long negotiations'
Medical charities say the evacuation of priority medical patients from the rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta has begun, following long negotiations with the Assad regime.
2 min read
27 December, 2017
Syria's government has carried out devastating airstrikes on eastern Ghouta [AFP]

Medical evacuations from Syria's rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta have begun, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced on Wednesday morning.

The evacuation of patients were the result of "long negotiations," the Syrian Red Crescent said.

Eastern Ghouta, which is east of Damascus, has been the target of devastating airstrikes and a crippling siege by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Rights groups, including Amnesty International, have accused the Assad regime of using illegal cluster munitions on the besieged enclave.

Around 400,000 people are believed to be trapped in the besieged area, with the UN having previously appealed for the Assad regime to allow the evacuation of around 500 priority patients.

"That number is going down, not because we are evacuating people but because they are dying," Jan Egeland, the UN's humanitarian advisor for Syria, said last week. "We have tried now every single week for many months to get medical evacuations out, and food and other supplies in."

According to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), have already been evacuted to hospitals in Damascus, while a further 25 approved patients would be evacuated in the next few days.

Some of the evacuations had been negotiated between the Assad regime and Syrian rebel group Jaish al-Islam, SAMS advocacy manager Mohamad Katoub said in a tweet.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said on Sunday that his government was working with Russia, a key Assad backer, on evacuations.

A November survey in the rebel-held area outside Damascus showed 11.9 percent of children under five were suffering acute malnutrition, "the highest rate ever recorded in Syria" since the conflict started.

Eastern Ghouta is one of the last remaining opposition strongholds in Syria. Recent weeks have seen an increase in violence and aid groups have expressed "grave" concerns over the deteriorating situation in the region.

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.