12/27/2017, 11.24
SYRIA - RUSSIA

Goutha,'medical evacuation' operations are under way. Rebels no to Russian peace congress

Some patients in "critical" conditions were transferred to the capital, including 130 children in need of urgent care. The area has been under siege by the Syrian army for years. Moscow proposes a "national peace dialogue" in Sochi for the end of January. Offer rejected by dozens of anti-Assad groups. 

Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The "medical evacuation" has begun of eastern Ghouta, a suburb in east Damascus controlled by the rebels and besieged by the Syrian regular army for some time. In a note the Red Cross operators confirm the shift towards the capital of patients in "critical" conditions; including seven children with cancer.

In his Christmas message this year, Pope Francis recalled remember, among others, just the "face of children" that suffer from the lack of peace and justice in the world, who work or are forced to migrate. Among these he addressed a particular thought for "beloved Syria", so that he could "finally find respect for the dignity of every person".

The area has been under a government siege for over four years and, within it, there are at least 130 minors in need of urgent medical treatment. UN sources report that about 12% of the child population of eastern Goutha - out of a total of 400 thousand people - suffers from severe malnutrition.

At the beginning of December the Red Cross operators had denounced that life was becoming "impossible" in the besieged area and that the situation had reached the "critical point". For weeks, UN officials have been dealing with the government of Damascus - which has so far not commented on the latest developments - a medical evacuation to treat the most serious cases.

The area is among those of "de-escalation" of the conflict, based on the agreements reached in the talks of Astana, sponsored by Russia, Iran (allies of Damascus) and Turkey (close to the anti-Assad rebels). Meanwhile, in the capital of Kazakhstan international diplomacy is moving in an attempt to put an end to more than six years of bloody conflict, which has caused hundreds of thousands of victims and millions of refugees.

Last week, the promoters of the negotiations proposed to hold "a national dialogue conference" in Sochi, Russia. However, the offer - strongly supported by Moscow - was rejected by dozens of rebel groups who "completely rejected Russia's attempt to circumvent the [UN-mediated] peace process". The leaders of these groups opposed a sharp refusal of the invitation to participate in the meetings scheduled on January 29 and 30 in the Russian seaside resort on the Black Sea.

On December 22 last Russia, Iran and Turkey had publicized the summit of Sochi in late January, considered a decisive step in the direction of a "political regulation" between the Syrian government and the rebel front. A move that follows the failure of the last peace negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland, under the auspices of the UN and the eighth round of meetings in Astana last week.

However, the announcement made yesterday by dozens of groups belonging to the Syrian opposition again threatens to frustrate the diplomatic effort. "We totally reject - says a common note signed by the 40 groups - Russia's attempt to circumvent the Geneva process". Among those who signed the document are the Islamic extremist movement Ahrar al-Cham and other groups armed by Washington in the past, like the brigades of al-Motassem.

In spite of the failures, Russian President Vladimir Putin is convinced that the project is the "key" to the peace process mediated in Geneva and Astana. Meanwhile, the operation of withdrawing Moscow troops from Syrian territory began, following the announcement made by the Kremlin leader in recent weeks. But this does not mean a disengagement of Moscow on the Syrian chessboard, so much so that Russian Defense Minister Sergey Choïgou confirmed yesterday the plan to establish a permanent (and strengthened) military presence in the air bases of Tartus and Hmeimim.

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