Trucks carrying food and medical supplies have arrived in the Syrian town of Madaya. Aid organizations have warned that a one-time delivery will not be enough as more residents continue to die of starvation.
The first trucks in a 40-strong convoy arrived in Madaya on Monday to deliver much-needed food, infant formula, blankets and medicine to the beleaguered town. The UN-supported aid operation also simultaneously entered the secluded Shiite villages of Foua and Kfarya, which are under siege by rebels trying to oust President Bashar Assad.
Red Cross spokesman Pawel Krzysiek announced the aid truck arrivals on Twitter and added that aid was set to be offloaded throughout the night.
"The operation has started. It is likely to last a few days. This is a very positive development," said Marianne Gasser, the head of the Red Cross delegation to Syria. "But it must not be just a one-off distribution. To relieve the suffering of these tens of thousands of people, there has to be regular access to these areas," she insisted.
According to the UN's World Food Program, the mission will bring one month's worth of food for over 40,000 people to Madaya out of Damascus, as well as food for 20,000 people to Foua, Kfarya from the city of Homs.
'Our children are dying'
A group of residents gathered at the Madaya town enterance to receive the first three aid trucks, according to the Associated Press new agency.
"Our children are dying of hunger," one of the residents told Hezbollah's Al-Manar television channel. She added that she walked to the entrance of town to ensure that she directly received the assistance, accusing fighters inside the city of selling supplies to the townspeople at unreasonable prices.
International calls for humanitarian intervention in Madaya rose in the last few days after images of severely malnourished townspeople circulated on social media. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) told the media that some 28 people have died due to starvation since December 1, including six infants and five adults over 60.
The residents of Madaya said they resorted to extreme measures in order to survive the blockade. "For 15 days we have been eating only soup," said 17-year-old Hiba Abdel Rahman. "I saw a young man killing cats and presenting the meat to members of his family as rabbit."
"Some people went through garbage bins, others ate grass. We sought food from the fighters but they refused to give it to us," the teen added.
Dire need for aid
Doctors Without Borders warned that a one-time delivery of aid will not be enough to help the thousands trapped in Madaya by the blockade.The aid mission was agreed upon as part of a deal reached in September to end hostilities in the area in exchange for humanitarian support.
Prior to Monday's convoy, aid had not reached Madaya in almost three months.
Over 260,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict started in March 2011.
Also on Monday, France demanded that Russia halt its airstrikes on Syrian civilians ahead of the January 25 Syrian peace talks to be mediated by the United Nations.
rs/ng (AP, AFP, dpa)