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Update from Madaya

The United Nations has recently reported that nearly one million Syrians now live under siege, a figure that is up from 393,000 Syrians at the same time last year. “Horror is now usual,” UN Emergency Relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien said in a November statement before the UN Security Council in New York. “It is a level of violence and destruction that the world appears to consider normal for Syria and normal for the Syrian people.”

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Four year old Manal and three year old Mohamand-Kamal shown above in better days. Since July 2015 with an airtight encirclement reinforced by thousands of landmines. The result continues to be widespread starvation, with residents surviving on foliage and scraps. Like literally hundreds among the thousands of children still trapped in Madaya, the children are fading and weakening from malnutrition and related illnesses without much to eat for many months. More about Manal and Kamal at: Will proxy politics bring death for Madaya siblings Manal and Mohammed-Kamal? (Above photo of Manal and Kamal courtesy of Sahar, mother of the babies. She has not seen them for nearly one year)

A total of 56 Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) trucks, in coordination with the United Nations (UN) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) finally entered nearly two years long besieged Madaya last week.

After five months with very little to eat, almost no medicines or medical care, the 40,000 residents of Madaya, a former holiday destination for many in Syria, Lebanon and the Gulf, located 26km northwest of Damascus received some international aid. On 3/15.2017 7,800 food packages that included canned beans and hummus, lunch meat, peas, cooking oil, olive oil, thyme, beans, sugar, rice lentils, bulgur and flour arrived. No fuel or cooking gas was included in the aid delivery, although Madaya residents regularly request these much needed items. Some basic medicines were allowed in and children’s medicines, mineral salts, vitamins, anti-inflammation medication and limited surgical supplies.

Unfortunately, for the dozens of Madaya residents in active kidney failure due to malnutrition, dialysis supplies, which have long been urgently requested of the UN to treat scores of Madaya residents like Manal and Kamal shown above, did not arrive.

According to ICRC spokeswoman Ingy Sedky, last week: “The people of Madaya have been suffering for years and there must be a regularity to bring them aid that can save their lives,” “Waiting four or five months is not a solution.” The ICRC is “keeping a dialogue” open with the Syrian regime in order to regulate access Sedky said adding that “an aid delivery every now and then will never solve the problem.”

Madaya Local Council Representative Firas al-Hussein, among others has reported that Shia militia fighters from a few countries still surrounding Madaya are shooting residents who approach food distribution points set up recently by the UN, ICRC and SARCS. Mr. al-Hussein advised this observer a few days ago that “sectarian snipers from four countries shoot at anyone who tries to reach the distribution centers.”

As a result, the local council has been forced to stop distributing food parcels to nearly half of the 40,000 residents in the besieged town, which received its first UN-sponsored aid delivery in nearly six months on March 14, 2017. Of the six residents who were shot trying to approach and collect a family box of aid, two are dead, and one is comatose, claims Mr. al-Hussein.

He added that “The snipers, who ring the town along with thousands of landmines, shoot at anyone who attempts to flee from their blockade.”

Even since fighters surrounded the former resort town in July 2015, more than 20 Madaya residents have been killed by snipers and landmines, according to a July 2016 report by Physicians for Human Rights.

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The above warehouse in north Madaya, was reportedly hit by artillery shells on March 15. An increasingly common “surrender of starve” vaporization of food and medicines. Photo courtesy of Firas al-Hussein.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which helped deliver the aid on 3/14/2017, has not commented on the shootings. They claim that if they do they may be expelled from Syria, so reports al-Hussein.

If the sniping continues, local council members plan to begin distributing the remaining food packages in the middle of the night. So far, as noted above, six residents have been shot by snipers. Two have died and one is lying in the hospital, comatose. One man, from neighboring Baqin, was shot when the UN convoy entered. The next day, while the aid trucks were unloading the supplies, several young men were shot.

Local media has reported that residents are being targeted not just by snipers but also by artillery fire. When asked by this observer how has this affected the local council’s ability to distribute aid packages to residents, one resident replied: “We have not distributed any food packages to the northern section of the town because snipers are shooting at anyone who tries to reach the distribution centers. Residents are targeted by artillery fire, too.”

The local council did distribute aid to the southern part of the city since that area cannot be seen by the snipers.

A major problem getting “safe aid” into Madaya is the much criticized violation of international humanity law tip for tat arrangement known as the “Four Towns Agreement.”
During September 2015, residents of Madaya and Zabadani, two regime-encircled towns in Outer Damascus, and al-Fuaa and Kafariya, two rebel-encircled towns in Idlib province, signed on to the

“Four Towns Agreement,” which stipulates that all aid deliveries and medical evacuations occur simultaneously across the four towns. Medical evacuations, whether due to injuries from sniper fire or life-threatening illness, would not take place unless a similar evacuation occurred on the other side. Because the towns are linked, any attacks on al-Fuaa and Kafariya by rebels can lead to increased shelling and sniper fire in Madaya, and vice versa. This is currently the norm.

Local Madaya council employees are planning to deliver the food packages in the middle of the night under cover of darkness but it’s a risky plan, and they may lose their lives since snipers are posted in the surrounding hills many with night telescopic sights and with a range of 1,500+ yards.

But as of 3/24/2017 this is the only way to distribute aid to Madaya residents, who have run out of most food months ago.

The 18,000 Madaya residents who have still not received food packages will suffer because of the delays in distribution. According to the ICRC, about 95 percent of them don’t have bread, sugar, salt, ghee or vegetables. Some might risk their lives in order to feed their children. One imagines that if a child is starving and crying, and food is only a handful of meters away, of course his father will try to go to the warehouse. He’ll risk getting shot by a militia sniper just to get a case of flour to feed his children.

Moreover, the aid that does enter Madaya and gets distributed to families will only last for about one month, two at most according to the UN. Residents will suffer even more once the food runs out, not knowing when another aid delivery while be allowed in or whether snipers will shoot the civilians trying to receive some from the distribution point.

In a statement last week, Dr. Darwish reported: “Living in Madaya, I feel like I’m in a black hole trapped outside time and space. We’re so far removed from the rest of the world. No one can feel what we’ve felt. No one can suffer like we’ve suffered. Maybe those who are outside Madaya don’t believe us when we say that people are regularly dying of hunger here. Every single day, you’ll see people—young and old—sifting through the garbage just to find nylon bags, cardboard or trash that they can burn to stay warm.”

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Syrian hero Dr. Mohammad Darwish, above shown looking across the Qalamoun Mountain town of Madaya is a dental student. He is one of three remaining medical professionals, working by themselves the past nearly three years. The two others are a dental student and a veterinarian.

Yet again, largely staying on the sidelines for political and security reasons, while hundreds of civilians are cowering under life threatening sieges and blockings of food, water and medicines, each of us and the UN and “International Community” have yet again failed the people Syria.

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Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Lebanon, France, and USA based Meals for Syrian Refugee Children Lebanon (MSRCL) which seeks to provide hot nutritional meals to Syrian and other refugee children in Lebanon. http://mealsforsyrianrefugeechildrenlebanon.com. He is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com.

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