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Syrian regime siege strangles Damascus suburb with starvation

More than 1,100 children are suffering acute malnutrition in Eastern Ghouta. [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 October, 2017

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The humanitarian situation in the besieged eastern suburbs of Damascus is an "outrage", the UN said on Friday, as a regime siege pushes residents to the point of starvation.

The humanitarian situation in the besieged eastern suburbs of Damascus is an "outrage", the UN human rights chief said on Friday, as a regime siege pushes residents to the point of starvation.

In the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta suburb more than 1,100 children are suffering acute malnutrition, and hundreds more are at risk because of food shortages caused by a government siege.

Aid agencies warn the situation is worsening, despite an international agreement to implement a "de-escalation zone" in the area, which has decreased violence but led to no new access for food, medicine and humanitarian aid for some 350,000 Syrian civilians.

"The shocking images of what appear to be severely malnourished children that have emerged in recent days are a frightening indication of the plight of people in Eastern Ghouta, who are now facing a humanitarian emergency," UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said on Friday.

"I remind all parties that the deliberate starvation of civilians as a method of warfare constitutes a clear violation of international humanitarian law, and may amount to a crime against humanity and/or a war crime," Zeid said.

The UN human rights agency has made a list of several hundred civilians who need medical evacuation but the Syrian regime has imposed severe restrictions on allowing people to leave.

A UN convoy last reached the besieged area on 23 September with aid for 25,000 people.

Food prices in besieged Eastern Ghouta have rocketed since Assad and allied forces took control of several neighbourhoods in May and destroyed tunnels which had been used to smuggle goods into the siege.

This month Eastern Ghouta's main checkpoint was closed and huge taxes imposed on traders. Last week two food warehouses were looted in "a possible sign of growing desperation", the UN said.

Eastern Ghouta, which lies outside the capital Damascus, was once a prime agricultural region.

In July, a "de-escalation zone" was implemented in Eastern Ghouta under a deal agreed by government allies Russian and Iran and rebel backer Turkey.

The agreement was meant to improve humanitarian access, but Russian forces "did two distributions at a checkpoint and since then stopped," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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