'He's gone': Teen starves to death in Syria's Madaya

UN vehicles loaded with food, medicine, blankets and other materials heading to the besieged town of Madaya.
UN vehicles loaded with food, medicine, blankets and other materials heading to the besieged town of Madaya.PHOTO: EPA

BEIRUT (AFP) - "He's gone," the doctor said quietly, announcing the death of 16-year-old Ali of starvation in the basement of a makeshift clinic in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya.

Ali's death late Thursday was witnessed by representatives of the UN children's agency, Unicef, as they assessed the health situation of residents of the famine-stricken town.

"They took us down to the makeshift hospital and we went to the basement" where two young men shared a bed, Unicef's top Syria representative, Hanaa Singer, told AFP.

Singer said the two boys' bodies "were skeleton-like".

A Unicef doctor approached one of the teenagers who looked particularly weak and noticed his pulse had stopped.

"She checked him out, there was no pulse, so she started resuscitating. One, two, three times, then she looked at me and said, 'He's gone.' And she closed his eyes," Singer said by phone from Syria.

According to Singer, the young man next to Ali began frantically whispering, "Did he die? Did he die?"

She said Ali's family, sitting nearby, appeared so exhausted "that they can't even mourn anymore. They were crying silently but helplessly."

Ali became the latest person to die of malnutrition in Madaya, which is under a crippling government siege.

More than two dozen people in the rebel-held town have reportedly starved to death since early December.

Aid agencies entered Madaya with a convoy on Thursday to deliver desperately-needed humanitarian aid, in a second such operation this week.

"What you really feel is the magnitude of the hunger. Everybody you ask says they have been surviving on soup with water, spices, eating leaves and grass," Singer said.

"The convoys do not help in situations like this," she said, calling for an end to sieges across the war-ravaged country.

"The children are begging for a piece of bread. Some of the children come and apologise to you, after asking several times and you tell them you don't have any," Singer said.

"They say, 'sorry auntie,' just for a piece of bread."