CNEWA’s regional director in Beirut, Michel Constantin, this morning sent us this report about the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Madaya, Syria:
The village of Madaya is a part of the east Ghouta region, along with Zabadani and Serghaya. This cluster of villages has witnessed fierce combat between the different fragments of the opposition on one hand, and the Syrian regular army supported by the Iranian guards and Hezbollah fighters on the other.
This area is strategically important for its location. It is very close to the Lebanese border, and also to the Syrian capital of Damascus. Located near the Beirut-Damascus highway, who controls the area controls the smuggling of arms and other items.
Two years ago, the Syrian government made a strategic decision to besiege all villages and towns bordering Lebanon in the hands of the opposition. They were successful in recapturing all villages of the so-called Qalamoun area. As a result, the fighters of the opposition were pushed either to Lebanon or to the Ghouta villages, mainly Zabadani and Madaya. Supporters of the opposition also sought refuge in there.
Syrian government and Hezbollah sources have stated that scores of trucks containing humanitarian aid are scheduled to be sent to Zabadani in January. The first wave of trucks carrying medical and food stuffs were sent to Madaya. But, militant groups allegedly confiscated them and sold them to the inhabitants at a very high price.
Yesterday, the United Nations said it had received “credible reports” of people dying of starvation and said that the Syrian government had agreed to allow aid convoys into the besieged cities of Madaya, Foah and Kefraya.
There are conflicting reports of how many people have died. The aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres puts the number at 23 since 1 December. One activist says it could be as high as 41. The UN statement Thursday provided only one confirmed death, that of a 53-year-old man on Tuesday whose “family of five continues to suffer from severe malnutrition.”
Sources add that this is a partnership between the WFP, the International Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and that aid would be enough to sustain 40,000 people for one month.
Finally, the situation is extremely difficult. The inhabitants are suffering, especially now in winter. The cold is another killing agent to be added to the mines besieging the town and thwarting aid efforts.
We contacted some leaders from the local church and they all stated that the only intervention right now is exclusively by the Red Cross and the United Nations. A church initiative is not possible at present because the political and military situation is very delicate.