Time was running out for hundreds of sick and starving civilians needing immediate medical care in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, a top aid worker said Tuesday.
An aid convoy entered the blockaded town on Monday, bearing desperately-needed food and supplies for thousands. Dozens are thought to have died from starvation or a lack of medical care in Madaya, and activists say some of the town's inhabitants were reduced to eating leaves.
The World Health Organization (WHO) was on Tuesday conducting door-to-door assessments to figure out who required immediate evacuation. The initial estimate of evacuations was 400 but could jump dramatically, according to WHO's Syria representative Elisabeth Hoff.
"We have approached the Syrian government, but we still do not have a proper dialogue on [evacuations]," she said, adding that time was running out for those who were ill. "We cannot wait for these negotiations to take place, we need to start to treat these people immediately."
Horrific images of emaciated residents and tales of desperation have emerged from Madaya, which has been blockaded for six months by government and pro-government forces.
Trucks carrying food and medical supplies reached Madaya near the Lebanese border Monday and began to distribute aid as part of an agreement between warring sides.
But until a deal to evacuate residents is reached, Hoff said the WHO was working to bring mobile medical units into Madaya to treat the most severe cases.
Another convoy was simultaneously delivering aid to two Shiite villages, al Foua and Kefraya, in the northwestern province of Idlib some 200 miles away. Rebel fighters in military fatigues and with scarves covering their faces inspected the aid vehicles in the rain before they entered.
Madaya is besieged by pro-Syrian government forces, while the two villages in Idlib province are encircled by rebels fighting the Syrian government.