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DAMASCUS/GENEVA: January 14, 2016. This week the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) began delivering food, medical items and blankets to 60,000 people trapped in Madaya in rural Damascus, and Foua and Kefraya near Syria’s north western city of Idleb.

"The operation has started. It is likely to last a few days. This is a very positive development. But it must not be just a one-off distribution. To relieve the suffering of these tens of thousands of people, there has to be regular access to these areas," said the head of the ICRC delegation in Syria, Marianne Gasser (pictured below talking to residents).

ICRC Madaya Syria“The suffering is intense. Aid agencies must be given safe and unimpeded access to all these people to provide them with the aid they need, especially now in the midst of winter," added Ms. Gasser.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that as a result of a war that will shortly enter its sixth year, 13.5 million people need humanitarian assistance, 4.3 million have fled the country and 6.6 million people have been displaced by violence.

“Today, almost 400,000 people are besieged in Syria – roughly half in areas controlled by Da'esh, 180,000 in areas controlled by the Syrian government and its allies, and some 12,000 in areas controlled by opposition armed groups,” said UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

“This is utterly unconscionable,” he added. “Let me be clear: the use of starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime.”

Elsewhere in the country, more than four million people live in hard-to-reach areas with only sporadic access to humanitarian supplies. The WHO says siege and the denial of humanitarian access to civilians continue to be used as a tactic of war in violation of international humanitarian law.

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