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Aid reaches starving Syrian town of Madaya

© Louai Beshara, AFP | Syrian children wait on the outskirts of Madaya, on January 11, 2016, after being evacuated from the town.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-01-12

An aid convoy entered the besieged rebel-held Syrian town of Madaya on Monday, where more than two dozen people are reported to have starved to death. Humanitarian aid also entered the Shiite villages of Foua and Kafraya in Idlib province.

Red Crescent (the humanitarian organisation) trucks carrying food and medical supplies travelling with UN vehicles on Monday evening entered Madaya, where some 42,000 people have been living under a government siege for months.

A remote mountainous town near the Lebanese border, Madaya has been under a longstanding siege particularly by Hezbollah militants supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Monday’s aid delivery came after the Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins sans frontières) charity said some 28 people had died of starvation in the town since December 1, including a nine-year-old boy in recent days.

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

Aid workers found the Syrians suffering from starvation, malnourishment and other illnesses during a visit to a hospital in Madaya, said UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien.

“Around 400 are in need of being evacuated for life-saving medical attention,” O’Brien told reporters following a closed-door UN Security Council meeting.

“They are in grave peril of losing their lives.”

Not only a humanitarian problem

Reporting from the Lebanese capital, Beirut, FRANCE 24’s Adam Pletts said Monday’s delivery to Madaya consisted of essential food and medication for a month for around 40,000 people.

A humanitarian aid convoy simultaneously entered the Shiite-majority Syrian villages of Foua and Kafraya in the northwestern province of Idlib, which have been besieged by rebel troops opposing Assad.

“Across the country as a whole, there are a number of towns and even the outer suburbs of Damascus that are under siege, perhaps not as seriously affected as Madaya,” said Pletts.

“In the vast majority of instances, aid agencies haven’t been able to deliver aid because they have not been granted access. This is very serious, not only in terms of the humanitarian cost, but it could also affect the peace process. The [opposition] Syrian National Council has said if these sieges aren’t lifted, they will refuse to sit at the table and talk with the government.”

More than 260,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government demonstrations in March 2011.

Hollande meets Syrian opposition negotiator

The delivery to Madaya came as Syria's opposition coordinator Riad Hijab met with French President François Hollande in Paris ahead of talks between the opposition and the regime in Geneva set for January 25.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Hollande, Hijab accused Russia of killing dozens of children after a bombing raid on Monday and said such action meant the opposition could not negotiate with the Syrian government.

"We want to negotiate, but to do that the conditions have to be there," he said. "We cannot negotiate with the regime when there are foreign forces bombing the Syrian people."

Russia, a staunch Assad ally, began a campaign of air strikes in support of the regime in late September.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday at least eight children were killed along with their teacher when a Russian air strike hit their school in the west of Aleppo province.

Russia says it is targeting the Islamic State group and other "terrorists" and has dismissed reports that its raids have killed hundreds of civilians as "absurd".

The Observatory also said three children had been killed in rebel rocket fire on a government-held neighbourhood in Aleppo city.

The city has been divided between government control in the west and rebel control in the east since shortly after fighting there began in mid-2012.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS, AP)

Date created : 2016-01-11

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