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article imageUN appeal to evacuate 500 urgent cases from rebel-held Syria

By AFP     Nov 30, 2017 in World

The United Nations Thursday appealed for 500 patients, many at risk of death, to be urgently evacuated from Syria's Eastern Ghouta region, one the last rebel-held strongholds.

Jan Egeland, advisor to the UN's special envoy for Syria, told a press conference in Geneva that there are around 500 "urgent medical cases" in the region, east of Damascus.

"Not a single person has been evacuated in two months. If (they are not evacuated) many of them will die," he said.

Egeland said nine people previously on the UN's list of civilians in urgent need of evacuation had already died.

The UN "not being able to reach Eastern Ghouta for many months has led to an undoubtedly catastrophic situation," he said.

He added that hospitals are ready to receive the patients if the Syrian government allows the evacuation.

The UN children's agency UNICEF said on Wednesday that childhood malnutrition levels in the region are the highest recorded in the country since its six-year war began.

More than one in 10 - 11.9 percent - of children under five were suffering from acute malnutrition, according to the November survey.

Eastern Ghouta is one of the last remaining rebel strongholds in Syria and has been under a tight government siege since 2013 that has caused food and medical shortages.

Syria's government agreed on Tuesday to a ceasefire in the region, following days of heavy bombardment.

But while the last few days have been "calmer", Egeland warned that "two days is not enough" for humanitarians to reach some 400,000 people in desperate need of aid.

Eastern Ghouta falls into one of four "de-escalation zones" set up under a deal between regime allies Russia and Iran, and rebel backer Turkey, agreed earlier this year.

But while the zone initially brought some calm, violence has increased steadily in recent weeks, with government air strikes and artillery fire killing dozens, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

Some food is still grown locally, or smuggled in, but humanitarian access to the region has been limited despite regular calls from aid agencies.

More than 340,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

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