01/08/2016, 00.00
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Damascus allows aid through to starved population of Madaya

The village, in the hands of rebel forces, has been under siege by the army loyal to President Assad. Witness report that at least 23 people have died of hunger since December 1. WFP: the first aid convoy will arrive on 11 January. "Incredible tension”, says aid groups calling for security guarantees.

Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Syrian government has approved the distribution of aid to the rebel-held village of Madaya, long besieged by government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. UN sources confirmed the news in response to alarming reports from witnesses in the area that the population is starving from lack of food. According to the World Food Programme (WFP),however, security guarantees must be given so the first trucks carrying food aid can arrive as early as next January 11.

Sources of the main humanitarian agencies say that the conditions in Madaya, located near Damascus and near the border with Lebanon, are "terribly frightening."

The Syrian government has also agreed access in other disputed areas like Kefraya and Foah, in the north; However, these areas are actually under the siege of the rebel forces opposed to Assad.

To date up to 4.5 million people are living in the disputed areas in Syria and difficult to access for humanitarian agencies, including at least 400 thousand in 15 different locations under siege, living in conditions of extreme necessity and without any access to aid.

These include Madaya, about 25 km north-west of Damascus and only 11 kilometers from the border with Lebanon, where there are about 40 thousand people. Since July last year the area has been besieged by government forces, supported by allied Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah.

Asked by the BBC's Greg Barrow, WFP spokesman, said that 72 hours "are the best scenario possible" because the trucks with food supplies can reach Madaya. The area is the scene of an "incredible power", he adds, because "we are moving along areas of the face" and "we must ensure that [...] there is no risk."

Although there are no updated figures on casualties in Madaya, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) sources report that since December 1 last at least 23 people, hospitalized for malnutrition in emergency clinics have starved to death. UN officials speak of evidence (credible) of people who starved to death and others killed as they tried to flee the area.

With the arrival of winter conditions in the area, which has been inaccessible since early December, they have deteriorated even more. "Grass and leaves - says a resident of the area - have died because of the snow."

There are testimonies of children who eat leaves from trees and other civilians who feed on dogs and cats; and of people trying to feed themselves by eating dirt, because "there is nothing else to eat" and emergency operations carried out without the use of anesthesia.

In five years of conflict between Syrian troops loyal to President Assad and rebel militias, which are flanked by extremist movements and jihadists, there have been at least 250 thousand deaths. Over 11 million refugees have been forced to flee their homes and villages to escape the bombing. Many have sought refuge outside in neighboring Lebanon or in Europe, while others still live in the country as IDPs.

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