Civilians evacuated in Eastern Ghouta, say reports
The evacuees would be the first civilians to flee eastern Ghouta since the implementation of the UN ceasefire led by Russia. Syria's Red Crescent said it would begin treating the wounded outside of the conflict zone.
Syrian Television on Tuesday showed sick and injured civilians being evacuated from the rebel enclave in eastern Ghouta. The UN Resident Coordinator in Syria confirmed that it expected the evacuations to include "people with medical conditions."
The Syrian army has led a month-long campaign of air and artillery strikes in eastern Ghouta, the last big rebel bastion near the Damascus, which has left more than 1,100 civilians dead, according to the UN.
Tuesday's evacuees would be the first people to leave the conflict-ridden area since a Russian-led short ceasefire was agreed to last month.
SANA news agency reported that the families left the eastern Ghouta through a "safe corridor" at the al-Wafideen crossing point. The state-run al-Ikhbariya TV broadcaster showed people, including sick and injured, being accompanied by army forces.
Syria's Red Crescent said it was prepared to help people in need of medical care who were leaving the battered rebel enclave in a tweet on Tuesday.
On Monday, the group had announced that it would treat people outside of eastern Ghouta through an agreement "via the United Nations with Russia."
The Syrian government's assault on eastern Ghouta has become one of the biggest offensives of the war. If successful, it could deal the rebels their biggest defeat since the battle of Aleppo in 2016.
The 400,000 residents in eastern Ghouta have faced severe shortages of food and medicines, even before the latest escalation of violence.
US AmbassadorNikki Haley told the UN Security Councilon Monday that the Russia-led ceasefire "has failed" and has proposed a new draft resolution that would call for a 30-day truce in the eastern Ghouta and Damascus.
Enclave under siege
More than 1,500 people have been killed since Syrian government troops backed by Russia launched a ferocious attack on eastern Ghouta on February 18. Airstrikes have reduced much of the area near Damascus to ruins. According to the UN, there were an estimated 400,000 people trapped inside the besieged enclave without access to food and water when the offensive began.
'Hell on earth'
The town of Douma, with its 200,000 residents, is now the only remaining Ghouta pocket still under rebel control. The full recapture of eastern Ghouta would mark a significant victory for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Referring to the month-long assault on the enclave, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres demanded "this hell on earth" be stopped immediately.
Reports of chemical attack
According to activists and doctors in the region, several people have suffered symptoms consistent with those triggered by a chlorine gas attack and had to be treated in hospital. French President Emmanuel Macron has warned the Syrian regime that the use of chemical weapons will result in French retaliation, but the Syrian government claims it has never used this kind of munition.
A man and child look at the remains of a missile in Douma, the largest in eastern Ghouta. More than 300,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in 2011, when the government cracked down on protesters who were calling for the release of political prisoners and for President Assad to step down.
'Rapid spread of malnutrition'
Activists say people in Douma have little food or water. Marten Mylius, the emergency relief coordinator for CARE in the Middle East, told DW that "after the tunnels were destroyed and the crossings closed, the price of basic foods skyrocketed. One kilo of rice now costs $4.50 (€3.66). A lot of people cannot afford that anymore. In other words, we are witnessing a rapid spread of malnutrition."
At the mercy of the regime
Aid access to eastern Ghouta is difficult because there is no direct route from neighboring countries. "In Idlib, for example...you can get in directly from the Turkish border. You can wait with supplies at the border and then bring in the convoy. It is much more difficult in eastern Ghouta," Mylius told DW.