WHO in Aleppo medivac safe route appeal

The World Health Organization called for dozens of sick and wounded people in Aleppo to be evacuated for treatment

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The World Health Organization (WHO) called on Tuesday for dozens of sick and wounded people in the embattled eastern part of the Syrian city of Aleppo to be evacuated through safe corridors for treatment.

The Syrian military, helped by Iranian-backed Shiite militias and the Russian air force, launched a major campaign to take rebel-held eastern Aleppo last week, where the WHO said only 35 doctors remained to care for at least 250,000 people.

On Tuesday, pro-government forces were mobilizing for a ground attack, a senior rebel said.

"WHO is calling for the immediate establishment of humanitarian routes to evacuate sick and wounded from the eastern part of the city," WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a news briefing in Geneva.

"We are talking about only 35 doctors left in east Aleppo to take care of hundreds of wounded people, and the number is increasing," she said.

Only seven hospitals remain in east Aleppo, some of them only partially functional, and civilians have no way to leave the encircled city, she added.

WHO spokeswoman Tarik Jasarevic said that "dozens" of patients required evacuation and that local health authorities would draw up the initial list after assessment by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

"WHO submitted the request for medical evacuations through the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," Jasarevic said by email from Syria. "The plans are being firmed up on how and where to evacuate with options of west Aleppo and Bab al Hawa hospital in Idlib," he said, referring to a major hospital along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Syrian doctors said on Monday they were in dire need of medical and surgical supplies to treat hundreds of wounded people among a trapped population of some 300,000.

The Syrian doctors said at least 40 wounded people in eastern Aleppo needed to be evacuated, but most wanted to be sent to rebel-held areas or abroad, not to the government-controlled western side of the city.

"We are waiting to evacuate them safely, to the hospitals in Idlib governorate, and some of them need to be evacuated to Turkey," said Dr. Abd Arrahman Alomar of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS).

Jessy Chahine, spokeswoman for U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, told Tuesday's briefing: "We do remind always all parties that evacuation operations have to be in accordance with IHL (international humanitarian law) and protection standards. One of the principles of IHL is 'non-refoulement', meaning that the person cannot be evacuated against their own will."