Evacuations expected out of Syria's battered Ghouta

A boy looks through a bus window during evacuation from the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria March 13, 2018.
A boy looks through a bus window during evacuation from the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria March 13, 2018.
Image: REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

Syrian state TV showed a group of civilians, including sick and injured people, it said were leaving the insurgent enclave in eastern Ghouta into government territory on Tuesday.

Yasser Delwan, a political official with the Jaish al-Islam rebel faction, said a group of patients had left under a deal for a medical evacuation with Russia, the government's ally, through the United Nations.

The expected evacuations come in the fourth week of a blistering Russia-backed government assault on the last rebel bastion near Damascus.

The rebel faction controlling Eastern Ghouta’s main town of Douma and a military source said patients would be evacuated on Tuesday.

“A group of critical medical cases will be evacuated with those accompanying them via the Wafideeen” checkpoint into government-held territory, the head of Jaish al-Islam’s political office, Yasser Delwan, said.

On Monday, the group announced an agreement “via the United Nations with Russia... for the evacuation of the wounded in several waves to be treated outside Ghouta“.

At the Wafideen checkpoint, an AFP reporter saw Syrian Arab Red Crescent ambulances on standby.

The reporter saw the the UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria, Ali al-Zaatari, arrive.

A military source at the checkpoint confirmed “an evacuation today of wounded and grave medical cases along with a number of civilians“.

But “no fighters will leave today“, he added, without elaborating.

On Monday, the United Nations said more than 1,000 people, mostly women and children, were in urgent need of medical evacuations from Eastern Ghouta.

It said they included around 80 priority cases.

More than 1,180 civilians have been killed since government forces launched an air and ground assault on the enclave on February 18, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Eastern Ghouta’s 400,000 residents have been living under government siege since 2013, facing severe shortages of food and medicines shortages even before the latest assault.

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