The United Nations human rights chief warned on Monday that thousands of people may have died of starvation during sieges affecting nearly half a million people in war-torn Syria. The comments by Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein came as the first major ceasefire in the five-year conflict entered its third day, and as the UN prepared to deploy trucks loaded with humanitarian aid into the country during the lull in fighting.
“The deliberate starvation of people is unequivocally forbidden as a weapon of warfare. By extension, so are sieges,” said Hussein. He added: “Thousands of people may have starved to death.” Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, reporting from the Turkish border town of Gaziantep, noted that US Secretary of State John Kerry had accused the Syrian government of using food as “a weapon of war”.
“This war in recent months hasn’t just been fought with weapons – it has also been fought through the use of food,” he said. “The guns here haven’t gone totally silent, so it’s still dangerous for aid workers.” The UN and its partner organisations were planning to start delivering aid to Syrians in several besieged areas previously cut off by the violence. A UN spokesman told Al Jazeera that trucks bound for Mouadamiya in the southern outskirts of Damascus were loaded and were planning to move shortly.
Aid deliveries were also planned to arrive in the towns of Zabadani, Kefraya, Fouaa and Madaya by Wednesday. The deliveries are part of humanitarian aid planned for 1.7 million people in hard-to-reach areas in the first quarter of 2016, Yacoub El Hillo, UN Resident Coordinator in Damascus, said in a statement on Sunday. The UN estimates there are almost 500,000 people living under siege of a total of 4.6 million who are hard to reach with aid.