Syria’s East­ern Ghouta faces ‘com­plete catas­tro­phe’ - UN

Jerusalem Post - - REGIONAL NEWS - • By TOM MILES (Bas­sam Kha­bieh/Reuters)

GENEVA (Reuters) – The 400,000 civil­ians be­sieged in the Syr­ian en­clave of East­ern Ghouta face “com­plete catas­tro­phe” be­cause aid de­liv­er­ies are blocked and hun­dreds of peo­ple need ur­gent med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion, UN hu­man­i­tar­ian ad­viser Jan Ege­land said on Thurs­day.

Seven peo­ple have died be­cause they were not evac­u­ated and 29 more were at im­mi­nent risk in­clud­ing 18 chil­dren, he told re­porters in Geneva after a reg­u­lar meet­ing of the UN hu­man­i­tar­ian task force on Syria.

“I feel as if we are now re­turn­ing to some of the bleak­est days of this con­flict again,” Ege­land said.

“Nowhere is it as bad as in East­ern Ghouta,” he said of the area, which is sur­rounded by the army.

The area east of Da­m­as­cus had been “com­pletely sealed off” since Septem­ber, leav­ing UN aid con­voys and evac­u­a­tions as a po­ten­tial life­line fac­ing a “bu­reau­cratic wall of in­ac­tion.”

“We can­not con­tinue like that. If we only get a frac­tion of what is needed it will be a com­plete catas­tro­phe,” he said. “What about a cease­fire now in this area and a green light to all med­i­cal evac­u­a­tions?”

As well as peo­ple wounded in the fight­ing, there are a grow­ing num­ber of acutely mal­nour­ished chil­dren, which means they are very close to dy­ing, he said.

“Why men in their 50s and 60s like me stop women and chil­dren from get­ting the med­i­cal ser­vice that would save their lives is be­yond my imag­i­na­tion. It can change to­mor­row.”

Rus­sian, Syr­ian and UN of­fi­cials met in Da­m­as­cus to try to break the dead­lock, both for East­ern Ghouta and for about 55,000 civil­ians stranded on the Jor­da­nian bor­der in a des­o­late area known as the Berm.

“The first meet­ing still hasn’t pro­duced at all the con­crete re­sults that were needed, but it is our strong feel­ing that the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion wants us to get the ac­cess and wants to help us so we are hopeful that this tri­lat­eral mech­a­nism will yield re­sults.”

The Berm had not re­ceived an aid dis­tri­bu­tion since June, but the United States, Rus­sia and oth­ers had worked out a de­tailed plan to sup­ply aid from Da­m­as­cus.

De­spite di­plo­matic ef­forts to set up “de-es­ca­la­tion zones” there was still fight­ing in many ar­eas, in­clud­ing Aleppo, Idlib, Raqqa, Deir al-Zor and Hama, and civil­ians were be­ing caught in the cross­fire.

He said the war has lasted longer than World War II, and sup­plies were de­pleted, so that the com­ing win­ter could be the tough­est of the war even if it will be the last.

“This is a man-made dis­as­ter – it can end,” Ege­land said.

A MAN WALKS on rub­ble after an air strike in the east­ern Da­m­as­cus sub­urb of Ghouta last week.

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