Damascus, Dec 27: Aid agencies are evacuating critically ill Syrians from Eastern Ghouta, a region home to around 400,000 people that has been under government siege since 2013.
One of the last rebel strongholds in the country, medical supplies and food have been in short supply.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Syrian Red Crescent, Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) are among the organisations involved.
Robert Mardini, ICRC regional director, wrote on Twitter that he was “encouraged to see the beginning of a lifesaving operation”.
ICRC posted photos to the social media site showing ambulances and aid workers on site.
SAMS said evacuations had begun for at least 29 people in critical condition. Four were taken to medical care on Wednesday. The remainder would be escorted out over the coming days.
“The list includes 18 children and four women suffering from heart disease, cancer, kidney failure, and blood diseases, in addition to cases requiring advanced surgery that are not available in the besieged area,” SAMS said, adding that a total of 641 people needed urgent medical care.
Medicine is being rationed, and people are dying of complications due to the limited availability of simple procedures like dialysis.
“The medical situation in East Ghouta has reached a breaking point. Because of the ongoing siege and the shortage of medical supplies, 17 patients at least have died over the past few months because they were not able to access medical care,” SAMS said.
Eastern Ghouta was supposed to be one of the “de-escalation zones” brokered a year ago by Iran, Russia and Turkey, but people there do not trust the agreements, and their greatest fear now is not having a place in their country.
Surviving on corn, cabbage and cauliflower
UN reports and Al Jazeera interviews in Eastern Ghouta confirmed reports that residents are drinking large amounts of water to suppress hunger, with food intake reduced to one meal a day.
The Assad government has allowed in some aid, but the UN says its current level of assistance covers just about 10 percent of the besieged population of Eastern Ghouta.
This year, the Syrian government has approved only 26 percent of UN requests to deliver assistance to besieged areas. The ministry of foreign affairs has the authority to remove any items from aid shipments.