A medical team is on its way to the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, where 32 people are reported to have died of starvation in the last month and children are suffering from severe malnutrition.
The Syrian government, whose troops are besieging Madaya with their Hezbollah allies, has given permission for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to enter the town with a mobile clinic and carry out vaccinations.
Next week, the United Nations hopes to send more aid convoys to Madaya and the villages of Foua and Kefraya, which are being besieged by rebels linked to al-Qaeda who are opposed to the Assad regime.
The plight of the people of Madaya came to the world’s attention last week when images of emaciated people came to light, with residents saying they had been forced to eat pets and weeds to stay alive.
Unicef said “cases of severe malnutrition were found among children” after the UN and Red Cross entered the town on Monday and Thursday to deliver aid for the first time since October.
Dozens of deaths from starvation have been reported by monitoring groups and local doctors and aid agencies.
Unicef said that of 25 children under the age of five screened by its staff and the World Health Organisation, 22 showed signs of “moderate to severe” malnutrition. Its staff also witnessed the death of a severely malnourished 16-year-old boy.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday that Syria’s warring parties, particularly the government, were committing “atrocious acts” and condemned the use of starvation as a weapon in the five-year civil war.
“Let me be clear, the use of starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime,” he said. “I would say they are being held hostage, but it is even worse. Hostages get fed.”
According to the UN, 450,000 people are trapped in besieged parts of Syria, in areas controlled by the Assad government, Islamic State (IS) and other groups.
Aid deliveries to Madaya, between the Syrian capital Damascus and the Lebanese border, coincided with relief for Foua and Kefraya in the north west of the country.
Britain has joined the US, France and other countries in the bombing campaign against IS in Syria. Russia, an ally of Bashar al-Assad, has been carrying out air strikes against IS and rebel groups.