Aid workers evacuated the first four critically ill patients from the besieged Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta giving a ray of hope that many more ailing people trapped there for more than four years may soon get medical aid.
The four patients allowed to be moved out were a girl with haemophilia, a baby with the autoimmune disorder Guillain-Barre, a child with leukaemia, and a man in need of a kidney transplant.
They are part of the first 29 critical cases approved for medical evacuation. Among them are 18 children and four women with heart disease, cancer, kidney failure and blood diseases.
The long awaited evacuation began on Wednesday under a prisoner exchange deal struck between Syria and Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), formed by a merger of Islamist groups in 2013.
The long siege led to food shortages in Eastern Ghouta. At least 16 people had died while awaiting evacuation. The list of 500 awaiting medical evacuation is gradually shrinking because people are dying. A baby died on December 14.
Aid agencies said Syrian officials’ failure to give clearances is blocking evacuations and efforts to bring aid into the region.
Although Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus had been recognised as one of four “de-escalation” zones in a May deal, the government continued the blockade and kept bombing the place saying opposition rebels in the area pose a threat to Damascus.
The Syrian government was using prolonged sieges as a weapon to smoke out rebels in Aleppo, Homs and several districts of Damascus.
More than 340,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the Syrian conflict started.