January 7, 2016 1:19 pm
Updated: January 8, 2016 6:21 pm

Syria to allow aid into town where starving people resort to eating leaves, pets

WATCH: In the besieged town of Madaya, not far from Syria's capital Damascus, no aid has arrived since October. It's cold and snowy now and people are resorting to eating whatever they can find, including pets. Mike Armstrong reports. (Warning: Disturbing Content)

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WARNING: This story contains images that some people may find disturbing.

The Syrian government says it will finally allow international humanitarian assistance into a besieged town where people have been so desperate for food they’ve reportedly resorted to eating leaves, dirt — even pets and stray animals.

Some 42,000 people have been trapped in the eastern town of Madaya since July, held under siege by forces loyal to the dictator Bashar al-Assad.

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“I’ve personally seen people slaughtering cats to eat them, and even the trees have been stripped of leaves now,” a local social worker named Louay told the Guardian in a phone interview.

The Guardian described his voice as “weakened by months of abject hunger” when he described plucking petals from flower pots for something to eat.
“People are dying in slow motion,” he told the publication.

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What food is available, on the black market, is reported to cost exorbitant amounts. A kilogram of rice or crushed wheat can cost as much as $350, Sky News reported. Just 900 grams of baby formula can go for more than $420, according to a BBC report.

Video released by local activists show how desperately hungry children in the village are.

The UN said Thursday the Assad regime will now permit it to deliver aid to Madaya and two rebel-held communities in the country’s north, Foah and Kefraya.

The international body welcomed the move, but called for greater access to ease the dire situation in besieged areas, saying nearly 400,000 people in 15 locations had no access to “life-saving aid.”

Madaya is just 25 kilometres from Syria’s capital, Damascus, and only 11 kilometres from the border with Lebanon. It’s been surrounded by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah — who are allies of the Assad regime — and access is hindered by landmines.

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“International humanitarian law prohibits the targeting of civilians,” a statement from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. “It also prohibits the starvation of civilians as a tactic of war. The UN calls for immediate humanitarian access to all hard-to-reach and besieged areas and for the facilitation of safe evacuation of civilians.

The last convoy with any sort of assistance — a joint operation between the UN, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent —arrived on Oct. 18, 2015 while some medical evacuations were carried out in December.

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“No food, medicine or fuel allowed in at all since mid-October,” the humanitarian organization Save the Children said Thursday, adding that people are sometimes living off a quarter of the recommended daily amount of calories.

The nearly five-year-long civil war in Syria has led to more than 4.5 million people “living in hard-to-reach areas continue with limited access to basic life-saving assistance and protection,” according to ICRC.

Overall, more than 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced since the war broke out in April 2011, while a further 4.5 million are registered as refugees in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

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