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Residents of the besieged Syrian town of Madaya continue to die of starvation and a lack of medical supplies, despite the delivery of aid earlier this month, according to a leading humanitarian agency.
Doctors without Borders (MSF) said on Saturday that at least 16 people – close to one person per day – have died since three aid convoys entered the town, near the Lebanese border, on January 11.
The group said that an estimated 320 people in Madaya are suffering from malnutrition, 33 of whom are “are in danger of death if they do not receive prompt and effective treatment”.
“It is totally unacceptable that people continue to die from starvation, and that critical medical cases remain in the town when they should have been evacuated weeks ago,” said Brice de le Vingne, MSF’s director of operations.
Rebel-held Madaya has been under siege by government forces and Hezbollah fighters since July.
Harrowing images of malnourished Madaya residents gripped the world in early January, showing wide-eyed babies without access to milk, and elderly men with cavernous rib cages.
“We would go for three days without food, then we would go and gather grass to just boil and eat it,” Mubarak Aloush, a Madaya resident who managed to escape to Lebanon told Al Jazeera at the time.
MSF said that 32 people have died from severe acute malnutrition since December, warning that the town urgently needed emergency aid and permanent medical staff.
“There needs to be a permanent and independent medical presence in Madaya immediately, as we expect the medical situation to worsen as access to healthcare for people inside remains extremely limited,” said De le Vingne.
Up to two million Syrians are trapped in sieges by the government or by opposition groups, the group said, adding that in many of these areas, medical evacuations are prevented, and necessities like drugs and food are “repeatedly blocked” at checkpoints.
“As a result, medical teams in these areas simply cannot cope with the demands they face. The situation in Madaya is even worse as there are no doctors present in the town,” MSF said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has previously warned that the use of starvation as a weapon in Syria amounted to 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 said shortly after the second international convoy in Madaya on January 14.
A delegation representing Syria’s main opposition bloc was travelling to Switzerland on Saturday to assess the intentions of the Syrian government in implementing humanitarian measures that could allow it to join political negotiations.
The talks at the UN headquarters in Geneva are the first since two rounds of negotiations collapsed in 2014.
Syria’s conflict has killed more than 250,000 people, displaced millions and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing as refugees to Europe.