The Syrian regime allowed Wednesday the evacuation of four patients, including children from the besieged eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
This move followed an agreement with Jaish al-Islam to evacuate a number of critical cases from this region, which has been witnessing deterioration in the humanitarian situation, in exchange for releasing the detained loyal to the regime.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Syria said its staff, along with those of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (Sarc), had “begun the evacuation of critical medical cases from eastern Ghouta to central Damascus” on Wednesday.
Four patients had been taken to hospitals in Damascus, the first of 29 critical cases approved for medical evacuation, and the remainder would be evacuated over the coming days; they include 18 children and four women with heart disease, cancer, kidney failure and blood diseases.
The ICRC said it had facilitated the deal, which came two months after the United Nations asked Assad’s government to allow the urgent evacuation of the 29 patients. The operation was still in a very early phase, it said.
The United Nations has pleaded for the government to allow evacuation of around 500 patients, including children with cancer, and has said there was no excuse for not permitting their evacuation to go ahead.
From the list of 500 urgent cases announced in November, at least 16 have already died for lack of medical assistance.
Ingy Sedky, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Damascus, said four patients were allowed to leave Tuesday and 25 others are expected to be let out in the coming hours.
"There are many more people who need to be evacuated. We hope this will be only the beginning," Sedky said.
Three children were among the first four patients to leave, Red Crescent official Ahmed al-Saour told AFP. He said in total 29 seriously ill people were due to be evacuated.
The first four 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, he said.
Eight-year-old Ingy, the girl with haemophilia, gave a broad smile as she boarded an ambulance, wearing a woolly hat and gloves against the cold.
In another ambulance, one-year-old Mohammed lay in the lap of a Red Crescent worker, his mother sitting beside them in a long black cloak and a veil showing only her eyes.