Aid convoy reaches starving Syrian town of Madaya

Aid convoy reaches starving Syrian town of Madaya
# 12 January 2016 03:56 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA An aid convoy entered a besieged Syrian town on Monday where thousands have been trapped without supplies for months and people are reported to have died of starvation, APA reports quoting Reuters.

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 the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

"Offloading of aid expected to last throughout night," ICRC spokesman Pawel Krzysiek tweeted.

Dozens are said to have died in the town from starvation or a lack of medical care 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 Shi'ite villages, al Foua and Kefraya in the northwestern province of Idlib 300 km (200 miles) 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.

A Damascus-based U.N. official who entered Madaya and oversaw the entry of the convoy of 44 trucks gave an eyewitness account of the plight of people in the rebel-held town of around 40,000 people.

"We have seen with our own eyes severely malnourished children ... so there is starvation, and I am sure the same is true on the other side in Foua and Kefraya," Yacoub El Hillo, U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, told Reuters by phone from Madaya.

Women cried out with relief as the first four trucks, carrying the banner of the Syrian Red Crescent crossed into Madaya after sunset, with civilians waiting on the outskirts of the town as the temperature dropped and it began to get dark.

The full aid operation was expected to last several days, the ICRC 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.

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

"Look at the grotesque starve-or-surrender tactics the Syrian regime is using right now against its own people. Look at the haunting pictures of civilians, including children - even babies - in Madaya, Syria," Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said on Monday.

"There are hundreds of thousands of people being deliberately besieged, deliberately starved, right now. And these images, they remind us of World War Two; they shock the conscience. This is what this institution was designed to prevent."

The United Nations said last Thursday the Syrian government had agreed to allow access to the town. The world body is planning to convene peace talks on Jan. 25 in Geneva in an effort to end nearly five years of civil war that have killed more than a quarter of a million people.

But Syrian opposition coordinator Riad Hijab accused Russia of killing dozens of children in a bombing raid on Monday and said such action meant the opposition could not negotiate with President Bashar al-Assad's government.

There was no immediate comment from Russia, which denies any targeting of civilians in the conflict.