By Adham Kako
EASTERN GHOUTA, Syria/ANKARA (AA) - Local health officials in Syria's besieged Eastern Ghouta district, a suburb of Damascus, have denied recent claims by Russia that 700 sick and injured people had been evacuated from the area.
Fawzi Arabi, a spokesman for Eastern Ghouta’s Health Directorate, told Anadolu Agency that only 29 sick and injured people had been evacuated from the war-weary district last month.
"No one else has been evacuated since then," he said.
Noting that the Health Directorate was in constant contact with the district's civil authorities, Arabi said the directorate's list of those in urgent need of evacuation was "steadily increasing".
According to Dr. Ahmed Saeed, a spokesman for the Union of Free Syrian Doctors (which is affiliated with several health facilities in Eastern Ghouta), the last evacuation was carried out on Dec. 25, when, he said, only 29 people were transferred out of the district.
No one else, Saeed confirmed, had since been evacuated from the area.
Firas al-Jundi, who serves as health minister in Syria's pro-opposition interim government, also confirmed that only 29 patients in need of medical attention had been evacuated late last month and that no additional evacuations had been carried out since then.
Home to roughly 400,000 civilian residents, Syria's Eastern Ghouta district has remained under a crippling regime siege for the last five years during which humanitarian convoys have been unable to access the city.
Hundreds of local residents, meanwhile, remain in dire need of urgent medical care, according to local health officials.
Over the course of the last eight months, the Assad regime has stepped up its siege of Eastern Ghouta, making it almost impossible to bring food or medicine into the district and leaving hundreds of medical patients without access to treatment.
Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in early 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.