Katr Alnada was number 18 on the list of just 29 people that were granted passage by the Syrian regime to Damascus for medical treatment, according to Mohamad Katoub, an advocacy manager for the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) in neighboring Turkey. "When (the) local team reached her they found that she died weeks ago," he wrote on Twitter.Eastern Ghouta is one of Syria's last rebel strongholds, but it has been under siege by regime forces for more than four years. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad had repeatedly refused aid into the enclave and evacuations out of it.SAMS reports that at least 17 patients have died over the past few months in the enclave because they were not able to access medical care, the group said.But in an agreement with the Syrian government, evacuations began from the enclave overnight of the 29 people — including 18 children — to hospitals in the capital, Damascus, several aid agencies said.The evacuees were "suffering from heart disease, cancer, kidney failure and blood diseases, in addition to cases requiring advanced surgery that are not available in the besieged area," SAMS said. Four people were evacuated overnight and the other 25 would be moved "over the coming days." But SAMS warned that the situation had "reached breaking point" and that 641 people require urgent medical attention. Other humanitarian organizations have been pleading for months with the Syrian government to allow the critically ill to leave. It is not clear if the Syrian government will agree to more than 29 evacuations and there are concerns over how the evacuees will be treated, having come from a rebel-held area and into Assad's center of power in Damascus. The UN's humanitarian chief in Syria, Jan Egeland, said on December 21 that a nine-month-old baby had died in Eastern Ghouta due to acute malnutrition and respiratory complications. "Had we gotten permission to evacuate to hospital ready in Damascus the child would have been alive today," he wrote on Twitter. UN officials warned last month that the area was experiencing the worst outbreak of child malnutrition since the civil war began, and that hundreds of people in need of urgent medical attention were trapped there.UNICEF reports that 137 children are among those in Eastern Ghouta need of urgent medical care.
The evacuations began after long negotiations with the Syrian government, according to the Syrian Red Crescent.It is not clear how the agreement was made, but it followed a statement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the weekend that his country was working with Russia and President Vladimir Putin to evacuate hundreds of people from Eastern Ghouta, including some to Turkey. "We are discussing with (Putin) how to evacuate them to our country without problems and provide them with medical assistance," Russia's state-run Sputnik news agency quoted Erdogan as saying.The Eastern Ghouta enclave, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, was taken by rebels in the conflict that erupted with the Arab Spring, but it was besieged by government forces in 2013 and has since then suffered from a dire lack of aid.It has a population of 400,000, but there is currently a ratio of only one doctor for each 4,000 residents, SAMS said.The area had in May been designated a de-escalation zone by Russia, Turkey and Iran — which are acting as brokers to resolve Syria's six-year war — but violence between rebels and regime forces has seen violence return to the enclave in recent weeks. In theory, residents in the area should be in a safe zone free from airstrikes, shelling and fighting. But they have suffered from both a lengthy siege and continued bombardment.This renewed violence comes amid peace talks and a declaration of victory from Moscow, in which Russian President Vladimir Putin said his military forces would begin to withdraw.
CNN's Natalie Gallón, Spencer Feingold, Joe Sterling and Sarah El Sirgany contributed to this report.