Humanitarian groups could deliver food and aid to starving residents in three desperate, siphoned-off Syrian cities as a early as Sunday.
The Syrian government, which has laid siege to the Syrian town of Madaya for six months, agreed on Thursday to allow convoys to move past their blockades and deliver aid.
On Saturday, U.N. Refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the town of 40,000 people, along with the besieged towns of al-Foua and Kefraya, could expect convoys to pass through by Sunday.
People in the towns had resorted to eating grass and leaves, but the cold weather months have cut even those dire options out. Doctors resorted to offering mineral salts and sometimes even medicine to starving people to keep them nourished, said Dr. Khalid Mohammed Al-Idlbi, 33.
Some have been poisoned by eating cats and dogs in Madaya, where a little more than two pounds of rice is selling for about $200, Al-Idlbi said.
Twenty three people have died of starvation in Madaya alone, according to Doctors Without Borders. Six who died were under one year old.
"What is the guilt of these young children? They deserve to live like all children of the world," Al-Idlbi said. "It makes me cry when I think about them, how they live in a besieged town under daily shelling with no life here in addition to the starvation policy used by the Syrian regime against them."
Madaya is now effectively an open air prison for an estimated 20,000 people, including infants, children and elderly. There is no way in or out, leaving the people to die,” Brice de le Vingne of Doctors Without Borders said in a statement.
Blockades have been a common feature of the nearly five-year-old civil war that has killed an estimated 250,000 people, with government forces besieging rebel-held areas and rebel groups blockading loyalist areas.
The World Food Project will deliver staples like rice, vegetable oil, flour, sugar, salt and canned food, but the operation won’t be easy.
"Basically we'll be crossing from the territory controlled by one side to the territory controlled by another," said Pawel Krzysiek, a spokesman for the ICRC in Syria, speaking from Damascus.
The U.S. State Department on Monday urged the Assad regime to honor its pledge and let the convoys through.
"Relief organizations should not have to argue over every little bit of access to help save people's lives. And of course, it's unacceptable that these conditions are created in the first place," said U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby.
The sole humanitarian convoy that has reached the three towns took place in October.
"What kind of people are those who besieged Madaya? Haven't they family, children, parents?" asked resident Abdulwahab Al-Ahmad. "Are they even humans?"
"I can't believe that this is happening in Madaya — my lovely town," said Al-Ahmad, who added that he hadn’t eaten in five days.
Al-Ahmad said he doesn’t recognize his neighbors anymore because they are all emaciated.
"We don’t know what will happen to us," Al-Ahmad said. "We are dying and the whole world is watching."