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Relief agency warns of mass starvation in Syria

Regime’s siege on rebel targets cuts off supplies

A Free Syrian Army rebel fighter manned his post Monday in Aleppo’s historic Old City. Opposition groups say the government’s tactics are leaving Syrians starving .

Loubna Mrie/Reuters

A Free Syrian Army rebel fighter manned his post Monday in Aleppo’s historic Old City. Opposition groups say the government’s tactics are leaving Syrians starving .

BEIRUT — Syrian opposition groups and international relief organizations are warning of the risk of mass starvation across the country, especially in the besieged Damascus suburbs where a gas attack killed hundreds last month.

With the world’s attention focused on the regime’s chemical weapons, activists said six people — including an 18-month-old girl — have died for lack of food in one of the stricken suburbs in recent weeks.

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Save the Children said in an appeal Monday that some 4 million Syrians, more than half of them children, do not have enough to eat. Food shortages have been compounded by an explosion in prices.

‘‘The world has stood and watched as the children of Syria have been shot, shelled, and traumatized by the horror of war,’’ said Roger Hearn, Save the Children’s regional director for the Middle East. ‘‘The conflict has already left thousands of children dead, and is now threatening their means of staying alive.’’

Thousands of people are believed trapped in suburbs east and west of the capital that have been held for months by rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad. Regime troops are besieging the areas, and residents say food is increasingly had to find. Rebels say they are trying to break the blockade.

The suburbs were the site of the Aug. 21 attack that a UN report found included the use of the nerve gas sarin. They were home to more than 2 million people before the war, but it is unclear how many are there now.

In some hard-hit areas such as the western suburb of Moadamiyeh, people are running out of food and are mostly relying on lentils, olives, and dried figs, according to residents and activists.

‘‘We have no food, no milk, and no medicine,’’ said a woman from Moadamiyeh, who identified herself by her nickname Um Lujain for fear of government reprisals. ‘‘We are surviving on one meal a day.”

Um Lujain said her 18-month-old daughter has lost half her weight and spends most of her days sleeping. The woman said her daughter’s diet is based on the liquid she makes by boiling lentils.

‘‘There has been no children formula or bread for about a year,’’ the woman said. She added that sometimes rebels find expired boxes of powdered milk in abandoned shops or pharmacies, and people still give it to their children for lack of food.

According to the Moadamiyeh Media Center, six people have died of starvation over the past 20 days: two women and four children ages 18 months to 7 years. It added that 15 other children are in intensive care in clinics, suffering from malnutrition.

On Monday, the opposition Syrian National Coalition accused government forces of tightening their months-long siege. ‘‘Assad’s forces are starving people to death in those areas,’’ the coalition claimed. ‘‘Famine looms in the horizon.’’

Rana Obeid, the 18-month-old girl, was the latest to die on Monday. An amateur video showed her lying on a bed, her ribs visible, and her stomach bloated.

The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the events depicted.

Mahmoud Abu Ali, an activist in Moadamiyeh, said the suburb has been under siege for 307 days. He added that most of the cows, sheep, and goats in the area died as a result of shelling or lack of feed, and people cannot plant their land because of daily bombardment.

‘‘People wake up in the morning and there is no food to have breakfast. At noon there is no food for people to have lunch,’’ Abu Ali said.

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