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Five U.S. Citizens Trapped in Starving Syrian Town of Madaya

Written by Maritime First

… As ‘400 Madaya residents need’ urgent evacuation

When a Syrian-American couple left their Pennsylvania home 10 years ago with their young children, they had plans to make lives in their native Madaya exporting fruit crops. When the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, they believed they would be safe.

Now, they are trapped — and starving.

“Right now, my kids are starving from hunger,” the mother said in a telephone interview with MSNBC on Monday. “My baby is 3 years old. All day long, the only words he says are: ‘I’m hungry. I need food.'”

Her husband and three of the couple’s five children are U.S. citizens and are among those caught inside the besieged western Syrian town, a U.S.-based Syrian activist who is a relative told MSNBC on Monday.

In all, there are at least five U.S. citizens there, said the activist, Hussein Assaf. He said they include his octogenarian grandmother, along with his 43-year-old cousin and three children, ages 14, 13 and 9. Assaf said a sixth relative in Madaya is also a U.S. citizen but MSNBC couldn’t immediately verify the claim.

Assaf asked that the relatives not be named to protect them, but he provided U.S. documentation — including passports, Social Security cards and birth certificates — as verification. MSNBC independently uncovered public records Monday showing that the cousin held addresses in Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2006.

Assaf said that his grandmother has never visited the United States but that she obtained citizenship during the 1990s through the U.S. Embassy in Damascus because her father had been a naturalized citizen.

Assaf’s cousin confirmed to MSNBC on Monday that he is a naturalized U.S. citizen and that three of his five children were born in Pennsylvania.

The man’s wife, speaking in English, said she and her husband left the United States in 2006 to start an apple export business — but now, she said, the family would like to leave and return to the United States.

More than two dozen people — including at least six under the age of 1 — have died of starvation since Dec. 1, according to Doctors Without Borders, which called the town an “open air prison” with no way in or out. Five people died Sunday.

The wife of Assaf’s cousin said in a telephone interview that her children also risk dying from starvation.

“Right now, my kids are starving from hunger,” she said. “My baby is 3 years old. All day long, the only words he says are: ‘I’m hungry, I need food.'”

A food convoy arrived Monday in Madaya. The woman said that she had been told that food would be distributed the next day but that she didn’t know how long it would last.

In the meantime, some 400 people in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya need to be urgently evacuated for medical treatment, says UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien.

After briefing the UN Security Council on the crisis in the rebel-held town near Damascus, he warned that those people could die.

Earlier, an aid convoy brought food to 40,000 town residents who have been under government siege for six months.

The UN says it has received credible reports of people dying of starvation.

Simultaneously, aid lorries entered two towns besieged by rebel forces in the northern province of Idlib under a deal between the warring parties.

The situation in Foah and Kefraya is also said to be extremely dire, with an estimated 20,000 people trapped there since March.

The arrival of the aid was delayed until both sets of lorries were ready to enter the towns.

Mr O’Brien was speaking at the UN headquarters in New York after the Security Council held an urgent meeting to discuss the crisis.

“I’ve just been told by the humanitarian co-ordinator, Yacoub El Hillo, that whilst he was at the hospital in Madaya he saw that there were around 400 people who must be evacuated immediately.

“We must seek to do this and put the arrangements in place as soon as possible for medical treatment. Or they are in grave peril of losing their lives and dying with either the causes being from malnutrition or for complications for other medical reasons,” Mr O’Brien said.

A few town residents were given permission to leave and could be seen with belongings awaiting evacuation.

In total, some 44 lorries operated by the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Syrian Red Crescent and the World Food Programme (WFP) reached Madaya from Damascus on Monday.

The convoy brought in food and medicines, as well as blankets, shelter materials and soap.

The distribution of supplies was expected to continue through the night.

Pawel Krzysiek, who is with the ICRC in Madaya, said after arriving: “The people… were coming every five minutes asking, ‘Listen, did you bring food, did you bring medicine?’

“Some are smiling and waving at us but many are just simply too weak, with a very bleak expression, too tired.”

Mr El Hillo told the BBC that UN staff saw starving children in the town.

One resident, Hiba Abdel Rahman, 17, told the AFP: “For 15 days we have been eating only soup.

“I saw a young man killing cats and presenting the meat to members of his family as rabbit. Some people went through garbage bins, others ate grass. We sought food from the fighters but they refused to give it to us.”

Madaya, which is about 25km (15 miles) north-west of Damascus and 11km from the border with Lebanon, been besieged since early July by government forces and their allies in Lebanon’s Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement.

Meanwhile, 21 lorries on Monday entered Another entered Foah and Kefraya.

They were carrying basic food items – including rice, vegetable oil, flour, sugar and salt – as well as water, infant formula, blankets, medicines and surgical supplies.

NBC with additional report from BBC

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Maritime First