A toddler is held up to the camera in this still image taken from video said to be shot in Madaya on Tuesday. (Handout via Social Media Website)

Madaya, a predominantly Sunni Syrian town near the border with Lebanon and 20 or so miles from the capital, Damascus, has been under siege by pro-government forces since July. Following a snowstorm early this year, things got far worse – the power was knocked out and there was little fuel. The siege has led to a disastrous food shortage, with what little food there is being sold for vastly  inflated prices.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a Britain-based group that follows the Syrian war, published a report this week that claimed women and children had begun to starve to death in the town, and that others had been killed by snipers or land mines as they tried to gather food. The World Food Program later told Reuters that the last shipment of food to the town was in October and that 40,000 people were now at risk of death.

Images that claimed to show the starving population of Madaya have spread widely online under the hashtags #Save Madaya and #Madaya Is Starving. A Facebook group that calls itself the Medical Commission in Madaya posted videos online that appear to show dangerously malnourished children. In the first video, a child says he has been without food for seven days.

هنااااا مضايا طفل لم يتناول الطعام منذ اسبوع حسبي الله ونعم الوكيل اين المجتمع الولي والسيد دي مستورا........

Posted by ‎الهيئة الطبية في مضايا‎ on Wednesday, January 6, 2016

In the second video, a mother says her young child has been without milk for a month and that she now gives the infant water and salt.

ايضا هنااا مضايا حيث الجوع يفتك بالكبار والصغار طفل سبعه اشهر لم يتناول الحليب اواي شي يؤكل منذ ايام يااااارب ارفعوا ايديكم الى الله وادعوا لاهلكم في مضايا المحاصره

Posted by ‎الهيئة الطبية في مضايا‎ on Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Other photographs featured on the Medical Commission in Madaya Facebook page showed people drastically underweight. One local told the Guardian that things had become so bad that people had slaughtered local cats for meat.

On Thursday, the United Nations announced that the Syrian government would allow aid to reach Madaya "in the coming days." According to SOHR, the siege of Madaya was in retaliation for the situation in the nearby towns of Kafria and Fouaa, both of which have a majority Shiite populations and have been under siege from rebels. The Associated Press reports that pro-government fighters pulled out of those towns, claiming that there was so little food around that residents were eating grass.

The use of siege tactics and limiting food supplies have long been used by both sides during the Syrian conflict; sites such as flour mills have assumed strategic importance in the fight between rebels and pro-government troops. “It’s blackmail,” Qusai Zakarya, a Syrian activist told The Washington Post in January 2014. “They see that starvation destroys a man’s soul and mind before it destroys his body.”

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