March 1, 2019 / 12:15 PM / 7 months ago

At least 84 die fleeing Islamic State in Deir al-Zor in east Syria: U.N.

GENEVA (Reuters) - At least 84 people, two-thirds of them young children, have died since December on their way to al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria after fleeing Islamic State in the Deir al-Zor region, the United Nations said on Friday.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been poised for several weeks to wipe out the last vestige of Islamic State’s territorial rule at the besieged village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border, but the operation has been held up by efforts to evacuate thousands of civilians.

The United Nations is “gravely concerned” about the plight of thousands of civilians fleeing the last ISIL-held areas of Baghouz in rural Deir al-Zor province after intense fighting, Jens Laerke, spokesman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a news briefing.

Al-Hol camp, in northeastern Hasaka province, now holds at least 45,000 people, including 13,000 people who fled Deir al-Zor last week, he said.

“Many of them have arrived exhausted, hungry and sick,” he said, adding that nine out of 10 were women and children.

“It’s a very long, a very tiring journey to this camp, so far have reports of more than 84 deaths on that road, on that stretch of territory. Two-thirds of those who have died are children under five years of age,” Laerke said.

Some 175 children have been hospitalized due to severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening form of the disease, he said, citing reports from U.N. agencies and aid groups on the ground.

Reporting by Stephanie NebehayEditing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean

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