128,000 civilians still remain trapped in E Gouta: UN

78 people killed in Saturday's chemical attack by Syrian regime in Douma district, White Helmets say

By Bayram Altug

GENEVA (AA) - Nearly 128,000 civilians remain trapped in Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb besieged by the Bashar al-Assad regime, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Friday.

"According to the reports we obtained, the Syrian regime has taken Eastern Ghouta under full control," Jens Laerke, spokesman for OCHA told Anadolu Agency, adding that the regime was not allowing access to the area.

"We estimate that some 70,000 or 78,000 civilians remained in Douma by the last night," Laerke said, indicating that there are still 50,000 civilians in different parts of Eastern Ghouta.

Laerke noted that a total of 120,000-128,000 civilians who were unable to escape Eastern Ghouta were being held back by the regime.

Tarik Jaserevic, spokesman for the World Health Organisation (WHO), said there were indications that a total of 500 people were exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals in Douma, Eastern Ghouta on April 8 that killed dozens of people.

Calling on the Syrian regime to give access to Douma, Jaserevic said: "Although we have reached some small regions in Eastern Ghouta, we still cannot provide access to Douma. WHO reiterates call to have full, unhindered and unconditional access to Douma."

"If chemical weapons were used, WHO needs to get access into the region not only to eliminate the negative effects of it but also to provide extensive healthcare," Jaserevic said.

UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac also confirmed that they had no access to regime-besieged Douma and stressed that especially children in the area needed urgent help.

"The terrifying deaths in Douma in Syria reveal that the basic principle of protection of children is completely ignored as it has been repeated countless times over the past seven years," he said.

Last Saturday, Assad regime forces struck targets in Douma district using a poisonous gas, killing at least 78 people and injuring hundreds more, according to the White Helmets civil defense.

On Feb. 24, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2401 which called for a month-long cease-fire in Syria – especially in Eastern Ghouta -- to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Despite the resolution, the regime and its allies early this month launched a major ground offensive backed by Russian air power aimed at capturing opposition-held parts of Eastern Ghouta.

Home to some 400,000 people, the suburb has remained the target of a crippling regime siege for the last five years.

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