Children are starving as battle rages over Damascus suburb, UN says

GENEVA, Albert Otti (dpa) - Children in an embattled rebel stronghold near Damascus are suffering one of the worst health crises of the Syrian war, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Sunday, as Syrian government envoys returned to Geneva for UN-led peace talks.
In the suburb of Eastern Ghouta, nearly 12 per cent of children below the age of 5 suffer from acute malnutrition, the highest recorded rate since the conflict broke out in 2011.

The area has been under siege by Syrian government forces for four years, and in recent weeks, these forces have stepped up their attacks there in an attempt to expel opposition fighters.
The UN agency demanded that 137 sick children be allowed to leave the area rapidly to get help for conditions including kidney failure, starvation and war injuries.
Five children with urgent medical needs have already died because they could not leave the besieged area.
"The situation is getting worse day by day," said Fran Equiza, UNICEF's representative in Syria.
"Sick children desperately need medical evacuation, and many thousands more are being denied the chance of a normal, peaceful childhood," he was quoted as saying by UNICEF.
In Eastern Ghouta, a total of 400,000 people have been largely cut off from humanitarian aid since 2013.
On Sunday, a government delegation arrived in Geneva to continue talks with the Syrian opposition through UN intermediaries, according to Syrian state news agency SANA.
The current round has been a one-sided affair so far.
Representatives of President Bashar al-Assad arrived one day after the starting date in late November, stayed only for a few days, and then flew back to Damascus.
During their week-long absence, UN mediator Staffan de Mistura held talks with opposition delegates about the main points on his agenda: crafting a new constitution and holding UN-led elections.
Previous rounds of talks in Geneva have failed as the opposition pushed for political change and al-Assad's resignation, while the government refused to talk about these topics and instead wanted to focus on security issues.

Tuesday, December 12th 2017
Albert Otti

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