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April 4, 2018 11:28 am

UN Seeks Access to Douma in Eastern Ghouta, People ‘on Their Knees’

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

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A man walks on the rubble of damaged buildings in the besieged town of Douma, eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria, March 5, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Bassam Khabieh.

The UN humanitarian adviser for Syria called on Wednesday for access to the eastern Ghouta town of Douma, where he said some 80,000-150,000 civilians were “on their knees” after years of siege and fighting.

Syrian government forces backed by Russia have recaptured nearly all of eastern Ghouta, which was the last major rebel enclave on the outskirts of Damascus, in a ferocious assault that began in February, marking a major victory for President Bashar al-Assad.

They were now negotiating with the armed group inside Douma, the last remaining area under armed opposition control, adviser Jan Egeland told a news briefing in Geneva.

“We hope that that agreement will lead to people being able to stay if they choose to, to get amnesty for those who put away their arms but also to an opportunity to leave for those who choose to leave Douma,” he said.

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Out of the nearly 400,000 people besieged in eastern Ghouta for years by Syrian government forces, 130,000 had fled in the last three weeks, Egeland said, adding that evacuations should be voluntary.

They included 80,000 people now in collective centres in government-controlled areas, where conditions were terrible, while 50,000 fled to opposition-held Idlib — which he called “the biggest cluster of displacement camps in the world” with around 1.5 million people.

With no reports of recent fighting or air raids in eastern Ghouta, he hoped the battle there was now over.

Rebel group Jaish al-Islam, which has not confirmed any deal with the Syrian government over eastern Ghouta, released five prisoners on Wednesday as part of a deal over Douma, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and state media said.

“We would then say anywhere between 80,000 to 150,000 are in the Douma area still under control of the armed opposition groups, Jaish al-Islam the biggest,” Egeland said.

“Why can we not deliver to the people of Douma today for example even though we are on the eve of a deal for Douma, they are really, really on their knees in terms of needs.”

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