Relief could soon be on the way to a rebel-held Syrian city where starving residents were reportedly reduced to eating grass, leaves and even their cats to survive.
The Syrian government, which has been laying siege to Madaya for six months, agreed to allow supply convoys to pass through their lines to reach desperate residents, the United Nations announced Thursday.
"Almost 42,000 people remaining in Madaya are at risk of further hunger and starvation," the UN said in a statement. "The UN has received credible reports of people dying from starvation and being killed while trying to leave."
The relief organization Doctors Without Borders vouched for those reports.
"Madaya is now effectively an open air prison for an estimated 20,000 people, including infants, children and elderly," Brice de le Vingne of DWB said in a statement. "There is no way in or out, leaving the people to die."
Twenty-three people have starved to death in Madaya since Dec. 1, DWB reported. Of those, six were less than a year old and five were over sixty. And all but five were male.
The Guardian newspaper published a horrific report about conditions in Madaya, where two pounds of rice sells there for $250 and hollow-eyed residents look like concentration camp survivors.
"People are dying in slow motion," a social worker named Louay told the Guardian in a telephone interview. "I've personally seen people slaughtering cats to eat them, and even the trees have been stripped of leaves now."
The International Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoys will be carrying enough food, water, medicine and other aid to sustain 40,000 people for about one month to Madaya, which is located near the Lebanese border.
"International humanitarian law prohibits the targeting of civilians," the UN said. "It also prohibits the starvation of civilians as a tactic of war."
The besieged cities of Foah and Kefraya near the Turkish border are also expected to get much-needed aid.
Last month, the Syrians agreed to a deal brokered by the UN to evacuate 450 wounded fighters and civilians from those towns.