Forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and the Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah have laid siege to roughly 40,000 people near Madaya, a predominantly Sunni town near Syria’s border with Lebanon, leading to widespread starvation and a severe deterioration in living conditions, the Associated Press (AP) reported Tuesday.
Residents of Madaya, who have been besieged since July, say the town is suffering from a critical shortage of basic necessities, including medicine, and that people are dying from malnutrition. A local Facebook page posted photos of several emaciated bodies, which could not be independently verified. The town has no diesel fuel or electricity, and some residents have been burning plastic for heat. Samir Ali, a local official, said the shortages have led to soaring prices for staples, with 2.2 pounds of crushed wheat selling for $250 while 31 ounces of baby formula cost about $300.
According to the AP, 23 residents of Madaya have died in recent weeks. Ten of the fatalities were due to starvation, with the remainder either being killed by pro-Assad forces or nearby land mines. At least 25 checkpoints have been erected around the town to prevent residents from leaving.
Madaya is not the only Syrian town under siege. Two Shiite majority towns, Foua and Kfarya in the Idlib province in northwestern Syria, have been besieged by rebel groups for over a year. Both towns report similarly dire living conditions and a severe lack of food, medical supplies, and other basic necessities.
In late December, a deal backed by the United Nations facilitated the evacuation of some 450 people from Foua, Kfarya, and a town called Zabadani, which is near Madaya. However, most residents in these areas remain trapped.
Pawl Krzysiek, a Syria-based spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, called the situation in the besieged towns “extremely dire” and warned that the winter will only make matters more difficult. “For far too long, people were left without basic necessities such as food and medicine,” he added.
According to Vice News, while the U.N. managed to get shipments of nutritional biscuits into the town in October, the Assad regime has prevented any more packages from coming in. “They have no supplies, and no training — one of their only doctors is a veterinarian who is now operating on humans,” said Dr. Ammar Ghanem, a physician who was raised in the area and is now a board member of the Syrian-American Medical Society. “We would like to send in supplies, but of course, we cannot get through the blockade.”
On Wednesday, The Guardian reported in more detail on the plight of those trapped in Madaya.
Families are eating leaves, grasses and water flavoured with spices in the town of Madaya, where rice is sold by the gram because a kilogram costs as much as $250 (£170). Some have killed and eaten their pets.
“People are dying in slow motion,” said Louay, a social worker from the town told the Guardian in a phone interview, his voice weakened by months of abject hunger. “We had some flowers growing in pots at home. Yesterday, we picked the petals and ate them, but they were bitter, awful.”
Residents say that children have been blown up by mines while looking for plants to eat in the forest near the town, and that over a dozen people have been fatally shot while trying to collect firewood.
Though the claims could not be verified, The Guardian wrote that “several independent accounts were consistent in describing life in a town desperately short of food, medicine and electricity.”
[Photo: Middle East Monitor / YouTube ]