Aid convoys set off for besieged towns in Syria
DAMASCUS - Aid convoys carrying food, medicine and blankets prepared Monday to enter the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, where more than two dozen people have reportedly starved to death, an aid official said.
The assistance is expected to enter Madaya, which is blockaded by the regime, at the same time as convoys carrying aid for two Syrian towns under rebel siege, Fuaa and Kafraya.
"Trucks carrying aid left to Fuaa and Kafraya earlier this morning as the route is longer and requires more coordination," International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesman Pawel Krzysiek said.
"The convoy for Madaya has now begun moving."
A journalist at the scene confirmed the convoy that had gathered at a staging point on the Damascus-Beirut highway was now heading for Madaya.
Fuaa and Kafraya are more than 300 kilometres (180 miles) from Damascus, while Madaya is around 40 kilometres from the capital.
The aid deliveries are being organised by the ICRC, Syria's Red Crescent, the United Nations and the World Food Programme.
They include food, milk for children, blankets, and medicine for acute and chronic illness, as well as surgical supplies.
Krzysiek said 21 trucks were headed for Fuaa and Kafraya in the northwestern province of Idlib, where some 20,000 people are under rebel siege.
Another 44 trucks were headed to Madaya, in Damascus province, where 42,000 people are reportedly suffering from severe food and medical shortages.
The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity said over the weekend that at least 28 people have died of starvation in Madaya since December 1.
The group initially said 23 people had died at an MSF-supported local medical facility.
On Sunday it tweeted news of five further deaths, including that of a nine-year-old boy.
"MSF-supported medics in the besieged town have 10 critical starvation patients needing urgent hospitalisation," the group tweeted on Sunday.
It added that "200 more malnourished patients could become critical and in need of hospitalisation within a week if aid doesn't arrive."
The three towns, along with Zabadani next to Madaya, were part of a landmark six-month deal reached in September for an end to hostilities in those areas in exchange for humanitarian assistance.
But aid has not entered Madaya since October, and residents and rights groups have raised the alarm about deteriorating conditions inside.
Government forces have been able to airlift some supplies into Fuaa and Kafraya, but rebel forces are not able to do the same for Madaya.
Most of those in the town are civilians, including residents of Zabadani who fled fighting in the town.