An aid convoy has finally reached the Syrian town of Madaya where at least 28 residents are believed to have starved to death in the past month.
- Aid convoy leaves Damascus for besieged Syrian town of Madaya
- MSF says more than 28 people in the town have died of starvation
- Trucks are carrying food, water, infant formula, blankets and medicine
- Aid has not entered Madaya since October
The joint United Nations and International Red Cross convoy carried food and medical supplies to the town of up to 40,000 which has been under siege for the past seven months by Syrian government forces and Hezbollah militants.
People on the streets of Madaya cried out with relief as the first four trucks of aid crossed into the town late on Monday, news agency Reuters reported.
The convoy left Damascus early Monday morning but was held up at numerous checkpoints on the journey into the besieged area.
Offloading aid supplies was expected to last through the night, and the full aid operation several days, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
There was worldwide outrage last week after photos and video taken by medical staff in the town showed emaciated babies and children who said they had not eaten properly for days.
Relieved residents of Madaya, which has been encircled by President Bashar al-Assad's forces for six months, said they had resorted to extreme measures to survive.
"For 15 days we have been eating only soup," Hiba Abdel Rahman, 17, said.
"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."
Ali Issa, a father of eight, said they had run out of everything, even money to buy what little food could be smuggled through at exorbitant prices.
The ICRC hailed the first deliveries, with its head of the Syria delegation, Marianne Gasser, describing the operation as "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," she said.
Speaking from inside Madaya, Pawel Krzysiek from the ICRC told the ABC that people greeted the convoy with joy but also anger that the aid had taken so long to arrive.
Mr Krzysiek described the people as looking pale, weak and tired.
"It's certain that there was not enough food here for a very, very long time," he said.
Mr Krzysiek said 40 trucks of aid and medical supplies will be unloaded in the town and that a medical team that was travelling as part of the convoy would try and give treatment to those who desperately needed it.
The UN's World Food Programme is providing the food, namely milk for children, while the ICRC is supplying medicine enough to last three months, medical equipment and blankets.
The operation to organise the supplies with help from the Red Crescent got underway after Assad's regime gave permission for the deliveries on Thursday.
US, Britain call for end to all Syrian sieges
Last week, the UN said only 10 per cent of its requested aid deliveries to hard-to-reach and besieged areas of Syria last year were approved and carried out.
More than 260,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government demonstrations.
The United States and Britain on Monday called for an end to all sieges in Syria, while French President Francois Hollande called for the immediate establishment of "humanitarian measures".
"Starving civilians is an inhuman tactic used by the Assad regime and their allies," said Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador to the UN.
US secretary of state John Kerry said "full access" to besieged towns is needed, urging all parties to cooperate.
Elsewhere in Syria, at least 14 children and five adults, one of them a teacher, were killed when a Russian air strike hit their school in the west of Aleppo province, the Observatory reported.
Russia, a staunch ally of Assad, began a campaign of air strikes in support of the regime in late September.
It says it is targeting Islamic State and other "terrorists" and has dismissed reports that its raids have killed hundreds of civilians as "absurd".