First Published: 2017-12-29

Sick Syrians evacuated from Eastern Ghouta
Patients evacuated were among list of cases considered critical in Eastern Ghouta, where humanitarian crisis has escalated in recent months.
Middle East Online

Evacuation deal raised concern that sick civilians were being used as bargaining chips by warring parties.

DAMASCUS - Aid workers completed a series of medical evacuations from a besieged rebel enclave near Damascus Friday as part of a controversial deal that saw patients swapped for hostages and prisoners.

The patients were among a list of cases considered critical who were evacuated since Tuesday night from Eastern Ghouta, an area where the humanitarian crisis has escalated in recent months.

"Thirteen civilians, including six children and four women, were evacuated" during the night of Thursday to Friday, a health official in Eastern Ghouta said on condition of anonymity.

The latest batch of patients the Syrian Red Crescent evacuated brought to 29 the number of civilians who were able to leave the area, which has been virtually cut off from the outside for four years.

The 29, 17 of them children, were deemed the most pressing cases on a list of around 500 people the United Nations said last month could die if they did not receive urgent assistance outside the besieged enclave.

Humanitarian access to the area, which lies just east of the capital Damascus, has been very difficult and only limited convoys of aid have reached it in recent months.

A crowd of residents gathered at night around the ambulances to see their relatives and neighbours one last time.

Red Crescent nurses attended to Marwa, a 26-year-old woman suffering from meningitis who was being stretchered onboard and given respiratory assistance.

Among the patients who made it out were Fahed al-Kurdi, a 30-year-old man with cancer, and Zuheir Ghazzawi, a 10-year-old boy who also has cancer and had a leg amputated.

- 'Without conditions' -

Another 16 patients had been evacuated on Tuesday night and Wednesday night by the Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the patients were evacuated as part of a deal that saw the rebels who control Eastern Ghouta release hostages and prisoners.

There were also 29 of them, according to the head of the Britain-based Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman.

Among them were some workers who were detained earlier this year as well as pro-government fighters whom rebels from the Jaish al-Islam group captured, in some cases years ago.

The deal raised concern that sick civilians were being used as bargaining chips.

"If they exchange sick children for detainees that means children become bargaining chips in some tug of war," Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council and currently a UN special envoy for humanitarian access in Syria, told the BBC.

The ICRC issued a statement on Friday urging the parties involved to allow for more evacuations and better humanitarian access.

"The evacuation was a positive step to end the immense suffering of some people in Eastern Ghouta, especially children who have limited access to life-saving medical care," ICRC Syria head of delegation Marianne Gasser said.

"But more needs to be done. The needs of civilians should come first, be it in Ghouta or elsewhere in Syria, and access to aid should be allowed on a more regular basis and without conditions," she said.


Syrian rebels agree to leave new area outside Damascus

Family accuses Israel of killing Palestinian in Malaysia

Rouhani slams officials' 'vow of silence' in face of protests

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Cinema makes return to Saudi Arabia

UN Security Council meets over Syria in Sweden

Turkish government rejects criticism of election campaign

Condemnation after Gaza teenager killed by Israeli soldiers

Natalie Portman says backed out of Israel prize over Netanyahu

Morocco, EU start talks on new fisheries deal

FIFA to return to Morocco to check hotels, stadiums

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen