Members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent help a woman who carries a baby to get inside an ambulance during a human evacuation of sick people from the eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria,
Months of deadlock over medical evacuations from Syria’s biggest remaining siege finally broke when a deal between Damascus and a rebel faction allowed the Red Cross to evacuate a handful of critically ill patients.
Four patients were evacuated from eastern Ghouta, where almost 400,000 people have been under siege by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces since 2013, the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) said in a statement. The evacuees were taken to hospitals in Damascus.
The Jaish al-Islam rebel group in Eastern Ghouta said it was releasing 29 detainees. In return, the government is allowing the evacuation of 29 of the most critical cases. However, one person on the list, a six-month-old baby girl, died before she could be evacuated, said Mohamad Katoub, an advocacy manager for SAMS, on Twitter. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had facilitated the deal, which came two months after the United Nations asked Assad’s government to allow the urgent evacuation of the 29 patients. The operation was still in a very early phase, it said.
“Happy that our negotiations reached this important goal. 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. Deputy reconciliation minister Ahmed Mounir said a deal was struck for a number of sick people to leave eastern Ghouta in return for the release of what he called kidnapped people. The number of people involved could increase, he said on television.
The United Nations has pleaded for the government to allow evacuation of around 500 patients, including children with cancer, and has said there was no excuse for not permitting their evacuation to go ahead.