Aid convoys reach starving Syrian towns

UN-supported operation brings relief for residents suffering under siege.

An aid convoy carrying food, medicine and blankets heads to the besieged Syrian town of Madaya on January 11, 2016,  at the same time as convoys carry aid for another two Syrian towns under siege, Fuaa and Kafraya. Louai Beshara / AFP
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MADAYA, Syria // Lorries carrying humanitarian aid entered the Syrian town of Madaya near the Lebanese border on Monday, as part of an agreement between warring sides to let medical and food supplies into besieged areas.

At least three lorries entered Madaya, where a group of residents had gathered, hoping to receive desperately needed assistance.

The town, about 24 kilometres north-west of Damascus, has been blockaded for months by government troops and Hizbollah. Opposition activists and aid groups have reported several deaths from starvation in recent weeks.

Simultaneously, lorries began entering the Shiite villages of Foua and Kfarya in northern Syria, both under siege by rebels seeking to remove president Bashar Al Assad.

The UN-supported aid operation was agreed on last week.

Red Cross spokesman Pawel Krzysiek said that the first lorries entered Madaya, Foua and Kfarya, and said offloading of aid was expected to last throughout the night.

The situation in Madaya is the latest example of both sides using hunger as a weapon in Syria’s war, now in its fifth year. The aid group Medicines sans Frontiers says 23 patients have died of starvation at a health centre it supports in Madaya since December 1 — including six infants under 1 year of age and five adults over the age of 60.

Yacoub El Hillo, the UN’s Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, said almost 42,000 people in Madaya are at risk of further hunger and starvation.

In Madaya, Hizbollah’s Al Manar television channel showed a group of people including women and children waiting for the convoys at the town’s main entrance. In interviews, they accused fighters inside of hoarding humanitarian assistance that entered the town in October and selling the supplies to residents at exorbitant prices.

“Our children are dying of hunger,” a schoolteacher told the station, saying she walked to the entrance of the town to make sure she received the assistance directly.

The UN’s World Food Program has said it will ship one month’s worth of food for more than 40,000 people to Madaya from Damascus, and enough for 20,000 people to Foua and Kfarya from the city of Homs.

* Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse