Aid Convoy Arrives in Besieged Syrian Town After Weeks of Widespread Starvation

PHOTO: United Nations and Red Cross aid convoys heading to the besieged Syrian towns of Madaya , Foua and Kefraya, Jan. 11th 2016.International Committee of The Red Cross
United Nations and Red Cross aid convoys heading to the besieged Syrian towns of Madaya , Foua and Kefraya, Jan. 11th 2016.

Aid convoys from the United Nations and the Red Cross have entered the besieged Syrian town of Madaya on Monday amid reports of residents dying of starvation in recent weeks.

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The first three trucks carrying supplies have entered the town, according to a BBC Arabic correspondent. Last week the Syrian government agreed to allow access to Madaya, in the Zabadani district, under the condition that aid would also be given to the towns of Foua and Kefraya, in Idlib province, which have been besieged by rebel factions.

Food, medical items, blankets and other materials will be delivered by convoy, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement today. This comes after shocking photos of starving Syrians -- including young children -- were published online and broadcast by many media outlets around the world.

Around 20,000 residents from Madaya, which is located 15 miles northwest of Damascus, are being deprived of food and other basic supplies, according to Doctors Without Borders. Twenty-three patients have died of starvation, the aid group said, including six patients under the age of 1. The town has been blockaded since July by government troops and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. This prompted rebel factions, including Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, to besiege the towns of Foua and Kefraya, though reports from these towns have not been as dire as Madaya.

“This is a clear example of the consequences of using siege as a military strategy," said Doctors Without Borders in a statement. "Now that the siege has tightened, the doctors we support have empty pharmacy shelves and increasing lines of starving and sick patients to treat. Medics are even resorting to feeding severely malnourished children with medical syrups as they are the only source of sugar and energy.”

Around 4.5 million people have limited access to basic life-saving assistance and protection in Syria, according to the ICRC and almost 400,000 of them live in besieged areas "with little or no access to basic supplies or assistance."

A six-months truce between warring parties was reached in late September and overseen by the UN. Under the agreement, rebel fighters would be allowed to exit Zabadani in exchange for the transfer of 10,000 regime supporters from Idlib, leading to concerns among opposition observers that the agreement would benefit the regime and its backers along the Lebanese border.