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Syrian Government Blocking International Aid, Driving Thousands To The Brink Of Starvation

CREDIT: ICRC via AP

The International Committee of the Red Cross works alongside the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and the United Nations (UN), shows a convoy containing food, medical items, blankets and other materials being delivered to the town of Madaya in Syria, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016.

“I look like a skeleton covered only in skin,” a Syrian man identified only as Mohammad told Amnesty International last week. “Every day, I feel that I will faint and not wake up again.”

Like many in the long-besieged town of Madaya, Mohammad spent his days searching for food, resorting at times to eating the leaves off of trees in order to gain some nourishment.

Until an aid convoy made its way into the region on Monday, 40,000 had lived under a tightly-controlled siege by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Mohammad said that those attempting to leave the area were blocked by the government.

People wait to leave the besieged town of Madaya, northwest of Damascus, Syria. Aid convoys reached three besieged villages on Monday — Madaya, near Damascus on Monday, Jan. 11, 2016.

People wait to leave the besieged town of Madaya, northwest of Damascus, Syria. Aid convoys reached three besieged villages on Monday — Madaya, near Damascus on Monday, Jan. 11, 2016.

CREDIT: AP Photo

The U.N. independently confirmed the claim. In a statement, its refugee agency reported that that those who attempted to leave Madaya were being killed or injured, and that people in the area were dying of starvation.

More than 40 trucks delivered food, blankets, and medical supplies. The last time aid reached the area was in October.

Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. Bashar al-Ja’afari denied that people in Madaya were starving and decried images of skeletal bodies as “fabrications.”

“The problem is the terrorists are stealing the humanitarian assistance from the Syrian Red Crescent as well as from the United Nations,” al-Ja’afari said.

He denied that the government was starving people – which is a war crime – and also said the government was not blocking aid from reaching Madaya.

“The Syrian government did not stop any convoys of humanitarian assistance,” al-Ja’afri said. “On the contrary: We sent plenty of convoys and we asked the U.N. to send more.”

According to the U.N., however, only 10 percent of all of its requests for access to government controlled areas were approved.

U.N. officials said that about 400 people in the Madaya area will need to be evacuated to receive life-saving treatment for medical conditions, including malnourishment and starvation. The organization’s humanitarian chief said that aid deliveries to the region should not be “either one-off or exceptional” occurrences.

RELATED: Kayla Mueller And The Impossibly Dangerous Job Of Providing Aid To Syria

As ThinkProgress has previously reported, the challenge of getting aid into Syria is grave. Government officials are loath to provide access and areas held by separatist fighters or the Islamist militant group, ISIS, are incredibly volatile.

The Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS) is one group that has continued to provide aid to those areas, but not without incredible risks to its personnel.

“Barrel bombs and airstrikes are a daily occurrence, and make the road incredibly dangerous, and sometimes temporarily shut down,” Kathleen Fallon of SAMS told ThinkProgress in February. “Vehicles are targeted, and aid trucks and ambulances are hesitant to travel on that road.”

A 2015 report by the organization noted that “every single medical facility that SAMS supports inside of Syria has been targeted by an air strike or barrel bomb at some point in time and every month we lose additional medical personnel in targeted attacks.” It also called for the creation of “humanitarian locations” for aid and medical supplies to be delivered without the threat of attack.

The sieges, bombings, abductions, and abuses suffered by the Syrian people have caused more than four million to flee their homeland since war broke out in the country four years ago. An estimated half of the one million migrants who have braved dangerous journeys in hopes of better lives in Europe are Syrian.