Syrian regime agrees to allow food aid into besieged Madaya

Published January 7th, 2016 - 04:00 GMT
A UN official speaks with locals in the town of Madaya, in Syria, on May 6 2012. (AFP/Louai Beshara)
A UN official speaks with locals in the town of Madaya, in Syria, on May 6 2012. (AFP/Louai Beshara)

The United Nations said Thursday the Syrian government has allowed access to rebel-held areas of a town near the border with Lebanon where concerns of starvation are growing.

The U.N. said in a statement it was preparing to deliver humanitarian assistance in the coming days to the town of Madaya, which is being besieged by pro-government forces, and to two Shiite towns in the province of Idlib which are under rebel siege.

Hezbollah-affiliated media had made a similar announcement earlier Thursday, saying new aid trucks would enter Madaya, as well as Al-Foua and Kefraya in the coming days.

"A new aid convoy will enter [the towns] in the upcoming few days after the wounded were allowed to leave the Zabadani area," the statement, issued by Hezbollah's War Media Center, said.

It blamed militants in Madaya for the suffering of its residents.

"The armed groups... and their foreign supporters are to be held responsible for the situation in the village."

It noted that dozens of aid trucks entered the towns of Madaya, Buqqein and Sergaia on Oct. 18, 2015, simultaneously as the same quantity entered the northern villages of Kefraya and Al-Foua.

Last week, a convoy transported 125 wounded rebels and civilians from Zabadani and Madaya, which have been besieged by Hezbollah and the Syrian army since July, to Beirut airport, from where they were flown to Hatay airport in Turkey.

Simultaneously, a convoy evacuated Kefraya and Al-Foua of 338 pro-government fighters and civilians, to Hatay, from where they were flown to Beirut, and then driven back into Syria.

The evacuation of the towns marked the second phase of the agreement reached in September under the mediation of Turkey, Iran and the U.N. A cease-fire was reached under the first phase.

The third phase stipulates that food and medical supplies would enter the three towns through safe humanitarian passages, with fighting forces pledging not to target these routes.

Under the fourth and final phase, all fighters will leave Zabadani in return for all civilians evacuating Kefraya and Al-Foua.

The statement issued by the War Media Center also accused the leaders of armed groups of controlling the food and medical aid entering the town "by blackmailing residents and selling it to those who can afford it."

"They are using the residents as human shields and a political tool in a media campaign of deception,” the statement said.

"Why didn't [media] organize a similar campaign when other Syrian towns such as Kefraya, Al-Foua, the Aleppo outskirts, Deir al-Zor and other areas were besieged by gunmen?"

Footage and photos of people and children allegedly from Madaya appearing malnourished have been circulating social media networks.

The area bears strategic significance for Hezbollah since it once served as a logistical hub for supplying Hezbollah with Iranian weapons. It also served as a base for party fighters and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Zabadani is located on the southern end of Qalamoun, about 50 kilometers northwest of Damascus and 12 kilometers northeast of Lebanon’s Masnaa border crossing.

Earlier Thursday, former Lebanese Prime Minister and Future Bloc head Fouad Siniora denounced the siege imposed on Madaya and Zabadani, describing it as “the crime of the century.”

Siniora expressed hope that Hezbollah “wasn’t a part of this crime.”

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