Aid convoys have departed for besieged Syrian towns where thousands are trapped and people are reported to have died of starvation.

Trucks headed for Madaya, near the Lebanese border, and two villages in the northwest of the country on Monday, the Red Cross said, as part of an agreement between rival sides.

The vehicles were to simultaneously enter rebel-held Madaya, which has been blockaded for months by pro-government forces and where aid agencies have warned of widespread starvation, and Foua and Kefraya in Idlib province, which are encircled by rebel groups, including the al-Nusra Front.

  Aid delivery expected to Syria's Madaya

The blockade of Madaya has become a focal issue for Syrian opposition leaders who told a United Nations envoy last week that they would not take part in talks with the government until it and other sieges are lifted.

A Reuters witness said dozens more Red Cross-marked trucks were also preparing to depart from Damascus for Madaya. Vehicles heading for Foua and Kefraya, nearly 300km away, had departed earlier.

The UN said on Thursday that the Syrian government had agreed to allow access to Madaya, where the world body says there have been credible reports of people dying of starvation.

The ongoing Syrian conflict started as a largely unarmed uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, but morphed into a full-blown civil war that has killed more than 250,000 people and turned more than 4.3 million others into refugees, according to statistics by the UN.

Blockades have been a common feature of the nearly five-year-old conflict.

An estimated 400,000 people are living under siege in 15 areas across Syria, according to the UN. 


READ MORE: Syria starvation - Is there any hope left? 


The UN reported in December that the Syrian government and allied militias had also placed under siege more than 181,000 people in the Damascus outskirts, including Daraya and Ghouta, as well as in Zabadani, near the Lebanon border.

Separately, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group has imposed a siege on more than 200,000 in Deir Az Zor in Syria's east.

Sharif Nashashibi, a London-based analyst of Arab political affairs, says that government-imposed sieges "don't just wear down the fighters, it also causes them to see the population around them suffering and raises the concern that the population could turn against them".

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Nashashibi added: "Besieging Syrian civilians is wrong, whoever the perpetrator. One cannot be selective in one's outrage over the suffering of Syrian civilians and plausibly claim to have a moral compass."

The areas included in the latest agreement were all part of a local ceasefire deal agreed in September, but implementation has been halting.

The last aid delivery to Madaya, which took place in October, was synchronised with a similar delivery to the two villages.

Convoys heading for besieged Syrian towns hope to stave off starvation.

Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for the UN children's agency UNICEF, says that the lack of access has made it impossible to assess the humanitarian needs of the communities in question.

"These are areas that have been under siege by parties to the conflict," she told Al Jazeera.

"We can't point a finger to one party and not another because more than one party to the conflict is involved in besieging various communities."

 

Additional reporting by Patrick Strickland: @P_Strickland_

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies