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Conjoined Twins In Syria Evacuated From Rebel Stronghold

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is not often we bring you good news from Syria. But this week, aid workers were able to evacuate a set of twins from a besieged suburb of Damascus. The babies are joined at the chest and abdomen. Activists hope they'll be able to get life-saving surgery abroad, and they hope their story puts a spotlight on other critical cases in the country. Here's NPR's Alison Meuse.

ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: The Syrian twins, Nawras and Moaz, less than a month old, have cleared their first hurdle, the 15-minute drive to the capital, Damascus. Government troops allowed them and their mother to leave the rebel-held suburbs of Eastern Ghouta, which has been under siege for three years. Dr. Mohamad Katoub is from Eastern Ghouta and has become a point man for the twins' cause. He spoke to me from Turkey.

MOHAMAD KATOUB: They have to get the suitable medical care that they need and that they're worth.

MEUSE: His group, the Syrian American Medical Society, supports health care in opposition-held areas of Syria. Katoub says his group first lobbied quietly for the twins' evacuation.

KATOUB: Within two or three days, we couldn't have any progress. So we decided to start, like, a social media campaign.

MEUSE: A photo of the conjoined twins swaddled in a blanket inspired pledges of support the world over. Hospitals from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia offered treatment. The American U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, tweeted, everyone should be pulling for Nawras and Moaz.

KATOUB: Within 48 hours, last Friday, the 12, two boys were evacuated to Damascus.

MEUSE: The next day saw another breakthrough. A 10-year-old girl who activists in the besieged town of Madaya say was wounded by a regime sniper was allowed to leave for surgery. But the twins' case remains precarious. Dr. Katoub says they're stuck in Damascus waiting for passports.

KATOUB: We are losing time, and their health is getting worse. Yesterday, one of them get a - he had to have a ventilator for a few hours.

MEUSE: I reached Dr. Bakr Ibrahim who helped deliver the twins in Eastern Ghouta. Speaking by internet call, he says 400,000 people are living under siege there with a limited health care system.

BAKR IBRAHIM: (Speaking Arabic).

MEUSE: "Patients with chronic illnesses and tumors constantly come to my center in need of evacuation," he says. "Sometimes they get out with the help of international pressure. Other times, they die waiting."

Last week at a press briefing, U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura read the names of 18 Syrians whose medical evacuations are being thwarted by the warring sides. The U.N. is ready to evacuate them, he said. Why on earth should this not be possible? Alison Meuse, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.