Middle East
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Turkey, Russia Arranging Evacuation of Eastern Ghouta's Civilians - Erdogan

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Ankara and Moscow are discussing the evacuation of some 500 civilians from the besieged Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.

"About 400,000 civilians live in Eastern Ghouta, at the same time there are also terrorists there. Some 500 people including 170 children and women urgently need help. We are discussing with [Russian President Vladimir Putin] how to evacuate them to our country without problems and provide them with medical assistance," Erdogan said at a press conference in Ankara.

He added that Ankara wanted to resort to assistance of the Turkish Red Crescent Society as well as of Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency.

The militant-held Eastern Ghouta region on the northeastern outskirts of the Syrian capital city of Damascus has been under siege since 2013. In late November, Russia brokered a two-day truce between Syrian government forces, the opposition and militant groups in the area. US Special Envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura has since called for the ceasefire to be extended. Eastern Ghouta is also one of the four de-escalation zones created during the Astana talks on Syrian reconciliation, brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Syria has been mired in civil war since 2011, with government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad fighting numerous opposition factions and extremist groups operating in the country, including the Daesh terrorist group. The international community, including Russia, has taken a number of steps aimed to settle the crisis, including via talks in Geneva and Astana. More than 340,000 people have been killed and millions have been driven from their homes since the outbreak of the Syria's conflict.