Wednesday 20 September 2017

'We arrived just too late, starving boy couldn't wait'

Unicef aid worker tells of distressing scenes after blockade of Madaya eased

CRISIS: UNICEF employee treats malnourished Madaya child. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
CRISIS: UNICEF employee treats malnourished Madaya child. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Laura Pitel in Istanbul

An aid worker has told how she watched a 16-year-old boy die before her eyes in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya.

Hanaa Singer, who works for the UN children's agency Unicef, said that a delivery of food and medicine last Monday came "too late" for some. Speaking from Madaya, she said: "I just saw a young man die in front of me. He just lost his life now in front of us.

"He was actually a skeleton... It was really very distressing."

The teenager, whose name she gave as Ali, had been admitted to a makeshift hospital suffering from malnutrition, she said, but staff had been unable to save him. Her voice shaking with frustration and fury, she added: "What I saw today, it makes me appalled on behalf of humanity. It's an absolutely horrible picture."

People were "extremely weak, extremely thin", and children "dazed" and "unfocused", she said.

Madaya, set in the mountains between Damascus and the border with Lebanon, has been under siege for six months by Syrian government forces and their allies from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah. Families, encircled by landmines, have had to resort to eating cats, dogs and weeds. After a global outcry, the Syrian government last week agreed to let aid into the town for the first time since October.

The UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered the first supplies to the 40,000 residents last Monday.

Ms Singer, an Egyptian who has worked for Unicef for more than 20 years, said she wanted to stress the vital importance of halting the sieges imposed on 400,000 people across Syria.

She said her message to all parties was: "Stop this horrible besiegement. Abide by international law and allow access to these areas."

Russia said last Saturday that a new objective of its forces in Syria was to provide humanitarian aid.

The claim will raise eyebrows in Western capitals and among the Syrian opposition, who have accused the Russian air force in northern Syria of bombing schools and launching air strikes on aid convoys.

A Russian defence spokesman said yesterday that those supplies mainly fell into the hands of, what Moscow terms, terrorists. He added that the Russian air force had delivered 22 tons of aid in an air drop to Deir el-Zour.

Around 200,000 are reported to be starving in a government-held pocket of the eastern city.

British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, on a visit to southern Turkey, last Saturday accused Russia of "deliberately" targeting schools, hospitals and rescue workers.

Sunday Independent

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