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Middle East

UN calls for urgent evacuations from starving Syrian town

© Louai Beshara, AFP | Syrians wait on the outskirts of the besieged rebel-held Syrian town of Madaya, where the first aid trucks arrived on Monday, January 11, 2016

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-01-12

The UN has called for hundreds of people in need of urgent medical treatment to be airlifted out of the besieged Syrian town of Madaya after the first trucks of aid reached the rebel-held town on Monday.

"Around 400 are in need of being evacuated for life-saving medical attention," UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien told reporters after a Security Council meeting.

"They are in grave peril of losing their lives," he added, urging the Syrian regime and rebel forces to allow the evacuation.

Some 28 people have died of starvation in the encircled city since December 1, including five on Sunday alone, according to Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF.

'Hundreds' suffering from acute malnutrition

The humanitarian organisation Red Crescent said 44 trucks loaded with food and other aid entered Madaya late afternoon, while 21 other trucks went to the government-controlled towns of Fuaa and Kafraya in the country’s north.

In Madaya, tearful women and children, bundled up against the cold, waited in the dark for the trucks bringing vital supplies after six months encircled by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

"Our children are starving," Ghaitha Assad, a 27-year-old resident, told AFP.

"We have no food -- even bread. There is no water, no electricity, no heating. Our children cry all night, we are unable to find anything to feed them."

Pawel Krzysiek, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, who reached Madaya with the trucks, said the "first impression is really heartbreaking".

"We see a lot of people on the streets. Some are smiling and waving at us but many are just simply too weak, with a very bleak expression, too tired," he said in an audio message.

Aid groups in Madaya said the trucks had brought enough food and medical supplies to last for one month.

Assad gave permission for the deliveries on Thursday after an outpouring of international condemnation, as footage of emaciated children in Madaya emerged on social media.

But Syria's envoy to the UN dismissed reports of civilians dying as fabrications, accusing "terrorists" inside the town of stealing supplies.

‘Inhuman tactic’

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

The UN is struggling to deliver aid to about 4.5 million Syrians in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged areas.

After the Security Council meeting on Monday, the UN’s O'Brien said the arrival of convoys to help civilians in the three Syrian towns must not be "either one-off or exceptional."

They must become the model for regular aid deliveries to civilians caught in conflict, which is a requirement under international law, he insisted.

Reporting from the Lebanese capital of Beirut, FRANCE 24’s Adam Pletts said there were several towns across Syria that had suffered from prolonged sieges.

“In the vast majority of instances, aid agencies haven’t been able to deliver aid because they have not been granted access,” he said.

“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.”

France called for the immediate establishment of "humanitarian measures", while the United States and Britain on Monday appealed for an end to all sieges in Syria.

"Starving civilians is an inhuman tactic used by the Assad regime and their allies," said Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador to the UN.

France's ambassador said lifting the sieges was key ahead of a new round of peace talks between Assad's government and the opposition planned for January 25.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

Date created : 2016-01-12


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