Besieged Syrian Town of Madaya Finally Gets Aid

By the time aid entered the Syrian village of Madaya on Monday evening Rajaai Bourhan had eaten nothing but wild plants for days. ldquoToday I had a meal of weeds,rdquo he says. ldquoI went with my father and we picked weeds.rdquo

Bourhan, a schoolteacher, waited in Madayarsquos central market today with dozens of others watching for the trucks to come. Many residents of this besieged city were too weak to even stand and wait.

The images and stories coming out of Madaya in recent days have been tragic, as emaciated toddlers and young children with sunken eyes tell activists and reporters they havenrsquot eaten in days. These are some of the estimated 400,000 people in besieged areas across Syria, where rights groups say their hunger is being used as a tool of war.

The U.N., as well as aid and rights groups, are calling for unrestricted and sustained humanitarian access to besieged areas across Syria but the logistical obstacles in their way are formidable. The transport of aid to starving masses in Madaya mdash held by groups opposed to the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad mdash was achieved only because of a difficult-to-broker pact that saw aid simultaneously delivered to Foah and Kafraya, two government-controlled towns in northern Syria under siege by opposition forces.

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The deal reached with the Syrian government on Thursday came too late for some. Bourhan says he knows of five people who have died in the days since then, and as residents waited today an activist named Hassan sent TIME a photo of a dead body.

ldquo51 years [old,] died yesterday of starvation,rdquo read the accompanying message. The dead man in the photograph is so thin his stomach sinks well below his rib cage. His fingers are dirty and blackened, possibly from scavenging for food as many residents have been doing.

The delay was logistical, according to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the organizations involved in coordinating the aid response. Residents said the aid convoy had been held up at a checkpoint manned by pro-government militia.

ldquoIt shouldnrsquot take starving children and a media outrage for the Syrian government to fulfill its obligations,rdquo said Hadeel Al-Shalchi, a Syria researcher for Human Rights Watch. But Al-Shalchi points out that itrsquos not just the Syrian government besieging civilians.

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