UN demands immediate aid access to Syria's besieged towns
Calling sieges in Syria a "barbaric tactic", the UN demanded on Friday immediate access to besieged towns to deliver aid to civilians facing starvation.
"There can be no reason or rational, no explanation or excuse, for preventing aid from reaching people in aid," UN aid official Kyung-Wha Kang told an emergency Security Council meeting on ending the blockades.
France and Britain requested the urgent talks after reports emerged of dozens of people who have died from starvation in the town of Madaya, where aid deliveries finally arrived this week.
Madaya's 40,000 residents have been living under siege by pro-government forces for months.
"The barbarity of this tactic cannot be overstated," Kang said.
Despite the outrage, Middle East Eye reported earlier on Friday that the UN agency responsible for monitoring and bringing aid to besieged areas of Syria allowed the Syrian government to edit the words "besieged" and "siege" out of its latest fundraising document.
Employees in the Damascus office of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) published the report with the government’s changes, without clearance from OCHA’s offices in Turkey and Jordan, according an email obtained by Middle East Eye.
OCHA puts the current number of Syrians besieged at 393,700. Siege Watch, a monitoring network, says that figure stands at more than a million, while the NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF), puts the figure at close to two million.
The same disparity is reflected in the number of areas under siege. OCHA lists 15, while the figure according to Siege Watch is 52.
UN teams are working to provide on-site treatment in Madaya and negotiate the evacuations of residents suffering from acute malnourishment, she said.
Nine people have been allowed to leave Madaya to receive treatment and 19 others are in need of urgent evacuation, she said.
The UN is struggling to deliver aid to about 4.5 million Syrians who live in hard-to-reach areas, including what may be as many as 2 million people in besieged areas.
Humanitarian aid access is seen as a key confidence-building measure ahead of the new round of Syrian peace talks planned for 25 January in Geneva.