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Deaths Mount as Syria Refuses Permit for Medical Evacuation


People are seen during shelling in the town of Hamoria, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria, Dec. 3, 2017.

A senior U.N. official says people are dying because the Syrian government will not give the green light for an urgent medical evacuation from eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus.

The United Nations has been asking the Syrian Government for permission to transport patients from eastern Ghouta to Damascus for urgent medical treatment since May to no avail.

FILE - Civil defense members and civilians carry a wounded man in the town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria, Dec. 3, 2017.
FILE - Civil defense members and civilians carry a wounded man in the town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria, Dec. 3, 2017.

Special advisor to the U.N. Syrian Envoy, Jan Egeland, says 494 people were on the priority lists for medical evacuations drawn up two months ago.

“That number is going down, not because we are evacuating people, but because they are dying,” said Egeland.

At least 400,000 people are trapped in eastern Ghouta, which is besieged by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. U.N. humanitarian workers have been blocked from delivering food and other critical supplies to the civilians trapped there for months.

FILE - A Syrian infant suffering from severe malnutrition is seen at a clinic in Hamouria, Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Oct. 21, 2017.
FILE - A Syrian infant suffering from severe malnutrition is seen at a clinic in Hamouria, Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Oct. 21, 2017.

Because of this deprivation, Egeland says 12 percent of children in the city are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and one-third of malnourished children under five are stunted.

He tells VOA he has confirmation that 16 people have died since the medical evacuation lists were resubmitted in November. But, he adds that number is probably higher.

“I fear during this Christmas and holiday season there will be more deaths unless we get the evacuation going. They have to be evacuated to get the treatment they need to save their life,” he said.

Eastern Ghouta, which has been under siege since 2013, is only 15 kilometers east of Damascus. Egeland notes the Syrian capital has the hospitals needed to care for the wounded and critically ill patients. He says the city has enormous warehouses full of the special nutritional, therapeutic foods needed to treat acutely malnourished children.

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