Sunday 20 May 2018

Aid reaches besieged Syrian town as 28 die of starvation

A Syrian girl waits to depart Madaya with her family, whose members say they have received permission from the Syrian government to leave the besieged town.
A Syrian girl waits to depart Madaya with her family, whose members say they have received permission from the Syrian government to leave the besieged town.

Richard Spencer in London

The first trucks from Damascus containing food and other aid for the besieged Syrian town of Madaya have arrived, Red Cross officials say.

"We are on the way to Madaya with aid," Pawel Krzysiek, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said.

He tweeted a picture of the convoy heading out of Damascus, and then of them entering the town as dusk fell outside.

In between, they had been held up at the edge of town for several hours. Assad regime forces have been laying siege to Madaya for months, reducing its population to boiling grass for soup and eating their pets.

Medecins Sans Frontieres said that 28 people had died of starvation in the town since December 1. At least five are thought to have died over last weekend alone.


Madaya is one of a number of towns between Damascus and the Lebanese border where rebels, dominated by Islamist groups like Ahrar al-Sham, have been holding out against an advance by regime forces.

Around 40,000 people are trapped in the town.

Its fate has been intimately linked to that of a nearby rebel-held town, Zabadani, and two Shia-dominated and regime-held towns surrounded by rebels in the north-west, Fouaa and Kefraya.

Under a peace deal negotiated between Ahrar al-Sham and Iranians acting on behalf of the regime, sieges on all three were supposed to be lifted, ceasefires observed and populations exchanged.

That deal seems to have broken down. Besides Madaya, a separate convoy will be delivering food to Fouaa and Kefraya, though fewer details have emerged of the situation in those towns.

The convoys are also carrying supplies from the Syrian Red Crescent and the World Food Programme.

The siege of Madaya has caused outrage in the West, which is already alarmed at the viability of peace talks planned for later this month. Since they were agreed, the head of one of the largest rebel groups, Jaish al-Islam, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, has been killed by an air strike, and events in Madaya and elsewhere have called into question the success of previous ceasefire deals. Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, called for an end to the sieges and also to Russian and Syrian air strikes in advance of the peace talks.

Monitors said 12 children and three adults, including a teacher, were killed when Russian missiles hit their school in the village of Anjara, in Aleppo province, yesterday morning.

Photographs distributed by activists from the scene showed the horribly burned faces of children, along with their classroom, reduced to rubble.

"I solemnly call for the lifting of the sieges and the halt of indiscriminate attacks on civilians," Mr Fabius said in Paris after meeting Riyad Hijab, the former regime prime minister who defected and is now designated spokesman at the talks for the rebels.

"We discussed the absolute necessity that Syria and Russia end their military operations against civilians and in particular the ordeal in Madaya and other cities besieged by the regime.

"It shows how much the Bashar al-Assad regime ... for moral and efficiency purposes cannot be the future of Syria and also at the same time that the Russians do not undertake such inadmissible actions." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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