Total of 16 seriously ill residents moved in exchange for detainees held by rebels


Twelve more people with serious medical conditions have been evacuated from the beseiged East Ghouta area near Syria’s capital Damascus, bringing the total to 16 since Tuesday night.

The Red Cross announced the transfers, carried out in conjunction with the Syrian Red Crescent, on Thursday:

However, reports circulated that several men had refused to leave East Ghouta for fear of being seized by the regime.

According to opposition activists, regime forces have often taken away men — for interrogation and for conscription — as people have been forcibly removed from other areas of Syria.

After months of refusing any movement of the seriously ill, the Assad regime finally relented this week after intervention by its ally Russia and Turkey. The first transfer is planned to be of 29 people, with rebels releasing 29 detainees in return.

Four people were taken to Damascus hospitals late Tuesday. A six-month-old girl died before she could be moved.

See Syria Daily, Dec 26: Red Cross — Medical Evacuations Begin From Besieged East Ghouta

The opposition is hoping for the evacuation of almost 500 people, including about 170 children. But the Assad regime is indicating that any further transfers are contingent on more detainees being released.

The regime says civilians were taken from the town of Adra, north of Damascus, in late 2013. The rebel faction Jaish al-Islam said it had released some regime fighters and some civilians who have been held by the hardline Islamist bloc Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Almost 400,000 residents are still in East Ghouta, under siege and bombarded for more than four years. At least 16 have died in recent weeks awaiting an agreement for evacuation.

The UN has warned of “complete catastrophe” with the regime tightening the siege. It says thousands, includng 1,500 children, are at imminent risk of malnutrition.

Russia Chides Turkey’s Erdoğan Over “Assad is a Terrorist” Remark

Russia has criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over his remarks saying that Bashar al-Assad must step down from power because of his crimes against the Syrian people.

Despite working with Ankara on a political process, the Russian Foreign Ministry objected on Thursday through spokeswoman Maria Zakharova:

As for the fact that the Turkish president called Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad a terrorist, Syrian government representatives are at the UN and represent the Syrian government at the UN Security Council, so this has no legal basis whatsoever, even without additional assessments and arguments.

I will not talk about the moral aspect. From the legal point of view, such statements are unsubstantiated.

Speaking during a trip to Tunisia on Tuesday, Erdoğan said:

Assad is definitely a terrorist who has carried out state terrorism. It is impossible to continue with Assad. How can we embrace the future with a Syrian president who has killed close to a million of his citizens?…There is no peace in Syria and this peace won’t come with Assad.