12 More Patients Evacuated from Syria’s Eastern Ghouta

Syrian paramedics hold children in an ambulance on the second night of an evacuation operation in Douma in the Eastern Ghouta region late on December 27, 2017. Photo: AFP

A second batch of sick Syrian civilians, most of them children, left the besieged rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, aid officials said Thursday, but hundreds of critical patients remained trapped.

Four evacuations took place on Tuesday and another group of 12 made it out late Wednesday, but a top humanitarian envoy questioned a deal under which medical emergencies are used as bargaining chips.

A total of 29 emergency medical cases are expected to be evacuated under a deal with the government that saw rebels release 26 individuals, including workers detained during fierce clashes with the army in March.

The numbers are still a far cry from the nearly 500 patients in the Damascus suburb the U.N. said weeks ago would die if they did not urgently receive better treatment.

“Yesterday we evacuated 12 patients together with their family members, the majority of them are children,” International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman Ingy Sedky said.

At the Syrian Red Crescent headquarters in Douma, an AFP correspondent saw the latest group of evacuees waiting for ambulances to pick them up.

Among them was Abdel Rahman, a seven-month-old baby with respiratory assistance in his mother’s arms. A Red Crescent worker tried to make another baby smile.

“Most of them suffer from cancer, chronic diseases and heart diseases,” Ms. Sedky said, adding that the evacuees were transferred to Damascus.

From the list of 500 urgent cases announced in November at least 16 have already died for lack of medical assistance.

Around 400,000 people live in the Eastern Ghouta area on the edge of the Syrian capital.

The enclave is controlled by rebels, the dominant faction among them Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), and has been under siege by the government for four years.