Food aid is expected to arrive by Monday in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, where some people are starving to death, but the UN warns that the situation is also dire in other parts of the country.
World attention has focused on the plight of the people of Madaya after activists used social media to highlight the conditions they are living in, with emaciated children and adults desperate for food after many days without it.
No large-scale aid has reached Madaya, which is being besieged by Bashar al-Assad’s troops and their Hezbollah allies, since October, with many suffering from malnutrition.
There are reports that packets of salt were handed to people on Friday, but it it not clear who was responsible for the delivery. The charity Hand in Hand for Syria also says it has succeeded in distributing food parcels to more than 500 families.
The United Nations said it had received credible reports that people had died from starvation.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 10 people have died, but opposition activists say dozens have lost their lives.
On Thursday, the Syrian govenment said it would allow aid into the town. This is being co-ordinated by the UN, which is also concentrating its efforts on two villages in the north-west of the country that are being besieged by rebel troops.
The European Union welcomed the Assad regime’s move and called for a halt to all attacks on civilians ahead of peace talks later this month.
Prime Minister David Cameron said the reports from Madaya were “heart-wrenching”. He is being urged by former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown to consider RAF food drops if the the UN is denied access to besieged areas.
The UN is warning that around 400,000 people are living in besieged areas of Syria, where civil war has claimed 250,000 lives in the last five years.
The blockade of Madaya began six months ago when the Syrian army and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, started a campaign to re-establish President Assad’s control over areas along the Syria-Lebanon border.