Aid trucks enter starvation-hit Syria town

Madaya: The first trucks carrying desperately needed aid entered the besieged Syrian town of Madaya today, where more than two dozen people are reported to have starved to death.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent said two trucks loaded with food and blankets entered the rebel-held town in the late afternoon, at around the same time a military source said that three others entered the government-controlled towns of Fuaa and Kafraya.

“The operation has started. It is likely to last a few days. This is a very positive development,” said Marianne Gasser, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation to Syria.

“But it must not be just a one-off distribution. To relieve the suffering of these tens of thousands of people, there has to be regular access to these areas,” she said in a statement.

The Red Crescent, ICRC and the United Nations and its World Food Programme have been trying to get supplies to Madaya since President Bashar al-Assad’s regime gave permission for the deliveries on Thursday.

The deliveries come after an outpouring of international concern and condemnation over the dire conditions in Madaya, where some 42,000 people have been living under a government siege.

An AFP correspondent who reached Madaya with the aid convoy said the town’s streets were deserted, with only a service station open.

A pair of elderly women were seen sitting on suitcases waiting to be evacuated.

People said they resorted to extreme measures to survive.

“For 15 days we have been eating only soup,” said Hiba Abdel Rahman, 17. “I saw a young man killing cats and presenting the meat to members of his family as rabbit.”

“Some people went through garbage bins, others ate grass. We sought food from the fighters but they refused to give it to us.”

Since December 1, some 28 people had died of starvation in Madaya, according to Doctors Without Borders, a Paris-based charity known by its French acronym MSF.

Residents have described desperate scenes, saying they have been reduced to eating weeds and paying exorbitant prices for what little food could be smuggled through the blockade.

Fifty trucks bearing the Red Crescent symbol were on their way to Madaya and 21 heading to Fuaa and Kafraya, the ICRC said.

The trucks were carrying food, water, infant formula, blankets and medication for acute and chronic illnesses, as well as surgical supplies.