Aid convoy enters Syrian town amid reports of starvation

Residents in rebel-held town of Madaya, near Lebanese border, said to be living on leaves

 

An aid convoy entered a besieged Syrian town yesterday where thousands have been trapped without supplies for months and people are reported to have died of starvation.

Trucks carrying food and medical supplies reached Madaya near the Lebanese border and began to distribute aid as part of an agreement between warring sides, the United Nations and Red Cross said.

Dozens are said to have died from starvation or lack of medical care in the town, and activists say some inhabitants have been reduced to eating leaves. Images said to be of emaciated residents have appeared widely on social media.

At the same time, another convoy began entering two Shia villages, al Foua and Kefraya in the northwestern province of Idlib, 300km away.

Rebel fighters in military fatigues and with scarves covering their faces inspected the aid vehicles in the rain before they entered.

Madaya is besieged by pro-Syrian government forces, while the two villages in Idlib province are encircled by rebels fighting the Syrian government.

Besieged towns: relief for Madaya

1: Madaya 2: Foua 3: Kefraya

Civilians waiting

Syria

Offloading of aid supplies was expected to last through the night, and the full aid operation several days, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

Images said to be from Madaya and showing skeletal men with protruding ribcages were published by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that monitors the war, while an emaciated baby in a nappy with bulging eyes was shown in other posts.

Madaya residents on the outskirts of the town said they wanted to leave. There was widespread hunger and prices of basic foods such as rice had soared, with some people living off water and salt, they said.

One opposition activist has said people were eating leaves and plants.

The blockade of Madaya has become a focal issue for Syrian opposition leaders, who told a UN envoy last week they would not take part in talks with the government, slated for later this month, until it and other sieges are lifted.

Credible reports

Dr Mohammed Yousef, who heads a local medical team in Madaya, said yesterday that 67 people had died either of starvation or lack of medical aid in the last two months, mostly women, children and the elderly.

The Madaya blockade began six months ago when the Syrian army and its Lebanese ally, Hizbullah, started a campaign to re-establish president Bashar al-Assad’s control over areas along the Syrian-Lebanese border.

Hizbullah responded to accusations it was starving people in Madaya by denying there had been any deaths in the town, and accusing rebel leaders of preventing people from leaving.

Blockades have been a common feature of the nearly five-year-old war that has resulted in the deaths of 250,000 people. Government forces have besieged rebel-held areas near Damascus for several years and more recently rebel groups have blockaded loyalist areas, including al Foua and Kefraya. – (Reuters)