Medics race to save starving Syrians in besieged
BEIRUT – Agence France-Presse
AFP photoAid workers scrambled Jan. 15 to help a hunger-stricken Syrian town where a teenager became the latest victim to succumb to starvation, as Western powers sought U.N. action on lifting blockades.
The plight of Madaya and other besieged areas has prompted the U.N. Security Council to call an emergency meeting for Jan. 15, amid warnings that the use of starvation as a weapon constitutes a war crime.
A mobile clinic with medics on board was dispatched to Madaya on Jan. 15 to treat people suffering from malnutrition, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, a day after a second aid convoy reached the town.
Madaya’s 40,000 inhabitants have been living under a crippling siege by pro-government forces that has made even bread and water scarce for months.
More than two dozen people have reportedly died of starvation since early December.
A teenage boy became the latest victim of hunger, the U.N.’s child agency said.
“The UNICEF team, which included a doctor, witnessed on the evening of Jan. 14 in a makeshift clinic the death of Ali, a 16 year old, who was suffering from severe malnutrition,” said UNICEF spokeswoman Juliette Touma. “It was sad and shocking,” she told AFP.
Another 17-year-old boy in a “life-threatening condition,” and a pregnant woman who will give birth soon, are both “in urgent need of evacuation,” UNICEF said.
There are an estimated 20,000 children living in Madaya, according to UNICEF.
A convoy of 44 aid trucks loaded with food and medicine on Jan. 14 entered Madaya, where the U.N. says hardships are the worst seen in Syria’s nearly five-year war.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that any forces using starvation as a tactic of war in Syria were guilty of a “war crime.”
“All sides - including the Syrian government which has the primary responsibility to protect Syrians - are committing this and other atrocious acts prohibited under international humanitarian law,” he told reporters.
Syrian authorities have repeatedly denied that starvation is taking place in Madaya.
Russia launches humanitarian operations
Meanwhile, Russia said on Jan. 15 that it had launched “humanitarian operations” in Syria where it is carrying out a bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), claiming peaceful life was slowly returning to the war-torn country.
“The inhabitants are gradually coming back to Syrian cities and peaceful life is returning,” General Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian General Staff official, told reporters.
“Currently most of the aid is being sent to the city of Deir Ezzor which has been besieged by ISIL terrorists for a long time,” Rudskoi said, using another term for ISIL.