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UN urges immediate evacuation of 137 Syrian children

UNICEF calls for 137 sick Syrian children to be immediately evacuated from Eastern Ghouta.

children in Eastern Ghouta

The UN children's agency has called for the immediate evacuation of scores of sick Syrian children from a besieged rebel-held enclave on the outskirts of Damascus, amid continued violence.

Five children in Eastern Ghouta have reportedly died, while 137 others require immediate medical assistance, UNICEF said in a statement on Sunday.

The children, aged seven months to 17 years, are unable to access medical help for conditions ranging from kidney failure and severe malnutrition to wounds sustained from conflict.

"The situation is getting worse day by day," said Fran Equiza, UNICEF's representative in Syria.

"The health system is crumbling and schools have now been closed for almost a month. Sick children desperately need medical evacuation and many thousands more are being denied the chance of a normal, peaceful childhood."

Eastern Ghouta, 15 km from Syria's capital, has been surrounded by government forces for four years, with the siege escalating in recent months.

The estimated 400,000 people living there have been almost completely cut off from humanitarian assistance since 2013, according to UNICEF.

Nearly 12 percent of children under five in Eastern Ghouta suffer from acute malnutrition, the highest rate recorded since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011.

In a previous report, UNICEF said the rapidly increasing costs of basic foods and cooking supplies in Eastern Ghouta, where bread costs more than 85 times its price in Damascus, have made preparing a meal extremely difficult for most residents.

UNICEF workers, on the most recent UN inter-agency convoy to Nashabieh town in Eastern Ghouta, described "one of the worst health and nutrition situations since the conflict began in Syria".

In Sunday's statement, UNICEF reiterated its call for "unimpeded, unconditional and sustained humanitarian access" to children across Syria.

"Now is the time for all sides to do the right thing and to stop the violence," said Equiza.

Also on Sunday, the Syrian government's representatives returned, after more than a week in the Swiss city of Geneva, where the latest round of UN-sponsored talks is underway.

The discussions focus on Security Council Resolution 2254, which calls for a transitional government followed by elections.

Held for the eighth time, the talks are due to end on December 15.

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