The Syrian government has granted the United Nations access to three Syrian towns, including one where residents say thousands of people are starving to death.
Humanitarian assistance will be delivered to Madaya and two other cities, Fu’a and Kefraya, but no firm date had been set.
Madaya has been under siege from Syrian government forces and Hezbollah militias for seven months, preventing basic supplies from getting through.
Rachael Hocking reports.
Amateur footage shows the haunting image of an emaciated child with his ribcage sticking out.
It is perhaps the most shocking of images being shared by Syrians as part of a social-media campaign to bring attention to their suffering.
The video reportedly comes from the Syrian town of Madaya, near the border with Lebanon.
In it, the young boy says his name is Mohammed Issa.
He tells the person filming he has not eaten in a week.
(Man:) “What’s your name?”
(Child:) “Mohammed Issa.”
(Man:) “How long have you been without food?”
(Child:) “Seven days.”
(Man:) “Say that you swear to God.”
(Child:) “I swear to God.”
(Man:) “Are you very hungry?”
(Child:) “Mmmhmmm …”
(Man:) “God willing, what are you craving right now? What would you like to eat?”
(Child:) “Something sweet.”
The last time Madaya received humanitarian assistance was last October.
Since then, the United Nations says, it has been inaccessible.
The town of 40,000 people has been under siege for seven months from Syrian government forces and Hezbollah militias.
Pro-government forces have also restricted access to the nearby town of Zabadani.
Meanwhile, anti-government fighters have surrounded Fu’a and Kefraya, in north-western Syria.
Residents say people are starving to death without access to food.
One protester from the northern town of Saraqeb accuses the Syrian government of violating the terms of truces reached for Zabadani and Madaya.
(Translated) “I am standing here to oppose the truce that took place in Kefraya and al-Fu’a, and against the siege in Madaya, against the truce that led to the starvation in Madaya. The hunger of our people in Madaya was caused by the truce. The truce made them hungry.”
Now, the Syrian government says it will allow aid into Madaya, Fu’a and Kefraya.
The United Nations says in a statement it welcomes the Syrian government’s announcement but is calling for unimpeded access to reach those in need.
“Almost 42,000 people remaining in Madaya are at risk of further hunger and starvation. The UN has received credible reports of people dying from starvation and being killed while trying to leave. The UN calls for immediate humanitarian access to all hard-to-reach and besieged areas and for the facilitation of the safe evacuation of civilians.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the war, puts the number of people dying from starvation in Madaya at 10.
But the international humanitarian organisation MÃ©decins Sans FrontiÃ¨res says 23 patients have died of starvation at a health centre in Madaya since December the 1st.
The group is calling for medical access to blockaded towns along with the promised food aid.
Meanwhile, the conflict in those cities and others has cast a bleak outlook over peace talks the United Nations hopes to convene this month.
Syrian opposition leaders have told a UN envoy they will not participate in talks with the government until the Madaya siege and others are lifted.