Syria: Aid convoys leave for besieged town, villages - Red Cross

Beirut: Aid convoys headed for a besieged Syrian town where thousands are trapped and the United Nations says people are reported to have died of starvation.

Trucks headed for Madaya, near the Lebanese border, and two villages in the northwest of the country on Monday, the Red Cross said, as part of an agreement between warring sides.

Trucks were to simultaneously enter rebel-held Madaya, which has been blockaded for months by pro-government forces and where aid agencies have warned of widespread starvation, and al Foua and Kefraya in Idlib province, which are encircled by insurgents.

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

Vehicles from the International Committee of the Red Cross were on their way to Madaya from Damascus, and to al Foua and Kefraya, the International Committee of the Red Cross's Syria Twitter account said.

A Reuters witness said dozens more ICRC-marked trucks were also preparing to depart from Damascus for Madaya. Vehicles heading for al Foua and Kefraya, nearly 300 kilometres away, had departed earlier.


The United Nations said on Thursday the Syrian government had agreed to allow access to Madaya, where the world body says there have been credible reports of people dying of starvation.

Blockades have been a common feature of the nearly five-year-old war that has killed 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.

The areas included in the latest agreement were all part of a local ceasefire deal agreed in September, but implementation has been halting.

The last aid delivery to Madaya, which took place in October, was synchronised with a similar delivery to the two villages.

Madaya is controlled by rebels and encircled by pro-government forces with barbed wire, land mines and snipers.

The people in the town make soups of grass, spices and olive leaves. They eat donkeys and cats. They arrive, collapsing, at a clinic that offers little but rehydration salts. Neighbours fail to recognise neighbours in the streets because their faces are so sunken.

Syria, once classified as a middle-income country, now reports periodic malnutrition deaths. At least 28 people, including six babies, have died from hunger-related causes at a clinic in Madaya aided by Doctors Without Borders, medics there say. And the 42,000 people that the United Nations counts as trapped in Madaya are about a tenth of those stranded in besieged or hard-to-reach areas as conditions grow steadily worse.

One of the dead, named as Mustafa Refaee, was among 17,000 people to have entered the town in search of safety, after war engulfed his home in nearby Zabadani.

Meanwhile, at the weekend, Assad regime supporters have been taunting taunted residents by posting pictures of sumptuous spreads of food on social media, hijacking the hashtag "In solidarity with the Madaya siege" in an apparent campaign to further demoralise starving Syrians.

The pictures were described as "callous" and "sadistic" by aid agencies and social media users.

​The aid agency Medecins Sans Frontiers said 200 patients in its hospital could become critical if aid does not arrive within the next few days.

Abdullah, a local relief worker, described watching his 55-year-old father starve. "What can I do for him? I have no money," he said. "The UN says it might bring aid tomorrow, but what do we use until then?"

The UN aid delivery is expected to take place in three stages over several days. Food parcels will be delivered first, followed by flour and medicines and blankets. Officials involved with the convoy fear a one-off delivery would not be enough to staunch the suffering for long.

Reuters; New York Times; Telegraph, London