Syria: Hundreds left behind in evacuations

BEIRUT: More than 400 patients on a UN list waiting for evacuations from a siege in Syria were left behind on Friday as the Red Cross said it had finished transferring just 29 people and their families to Damascus for medical care.

It took the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent three days to evacuate the patients and their family members from the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus to hospitals just minutes away, underscoring the degree to which authorities have obstructed basic relief work in the war-torn country.

The UN submitted a list of names to the government six months ago of patients requiring evacuation from the regime’s siege of the suburbs of its own capital because they were suffering from war wounds, kidney failure, and malnutrition.

In November, UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said the list had reached 494 names, and 12 patients had died waiting for care. The UN’s children’s agency said more than 100 children require evacuation.

The Army of Islam, a prominent rebel faction in Eastern Ghouta, said it had agreed to release an equivalent number of prisoners of war and other captives to the regime in exchange for securing the medical evacuations.

Meanwhile, intense fighting killed dozens of people on the edge of the last Syrian province entirely outside regime control.
Regime and allied forces backed by Russian warplanes took on fighters in an area straddling the border between Idlib and Hama provinces.

The fighting, which could signal the start of a major offensive to wrest Idlib province from opposition fighters dominated by a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, escalated on Thursday.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 68 people have been killed since then and the clashes, centered around an area called Al-Tamana, continued on Friday.

At least 21 civilians were among the dead, said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based monitoring organization.

They were killed in airstrikes carried out by Russian warplanes and by barrel bombs dropped by Syrian aircraft, he said. He said 27 soldiers and members of allied paramilitary units were killed in the fighting as well as 20 fighters.

Abdel Rahman said the latest deaths brought the number of civilians killed in the area since Monday to 42 and the death toll among combatants to 90.

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