NEW YORK, 7th January 2016 (WAM) — The United Nations has called for unimpeded humanitarian access to reach those in need in hard-to-reach and besieged areas in Syria, including 42,000 people remaining in the town of Madaya who are at risk of further hunger and starvation under a tight months-long siege laid to the town by Syrian regime forces and Iranian-backed Hezbollah militias.

“International humanitarian law prohibits the targeting of civilians. It also prohibits the starvation of civilians as a tactic of war. The UN calls for immediate humanitarian access to all hard-to-reach and besieged areas and for the facilitation of safe evacuation of civilians,” Yacoub El Hillo, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria and Kevin Kennedy, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, said in a press release.

“The UN has received credible reports of people dying from starvation and being killed while trying to leave. On 5 January 2016, a 53 year-old man reportedly died of starvation while his family of five continues to suffer from severe malnutrition,”

The UN is particularly concerned about the plight of nearly 400,000 people besieged by parties to the conflict in locations such as Deir Ez-Zor city, Daraya, Foah and Kafraya, as well as besieged areas of East Ghouta near Damascus.

“Citizens are dying. They’re eating stuff off the ground. They’re eating cats and dogs,” an activist inside the town of Madaya, near Damascus, told BBC News today.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ABC News, said the medical charity Medecins San Frontiers believes thousands of civilians are at risk of starvation in a Syrian town besieged by the army of President Bashar al-Assad.

Civilians in Madaya, near the Lebanese border, say people are beginning to starve to death and children are severely malnourished after weeks with no adequate food.

John Kirby, Spokesperson of U.S. Department of State, noted that the U.S. is aware of the reports about the 40,000 civilians under the seven-month long siege in Madaya town, and said, “It’s just devastating. I think some of you may have seen there are some images out there about how this regime is using starvation as a tool, a tactic of war. It’s pretty heart-rending, and frankly, it’s despicable.”

Speaking to reporters in Washington during the daily press briefing, Kirby noted that the siege on Madaya as yet more proof not just of the brutality of Assad regime and Assad’s lack of legitimacy.

In the last year, only 10 per cent of all requests for UN inter-agency convoys to hard-to-reach and besieged areas in Syria were approved and delivered, the UN officials said in the statement.

The two UN officials added that up to 4.5 million people in Syria live in hard-to-reach areas including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged locations who do not have access to the life-saving aid they urgently need. “The ongoing conflict continues to hamper the humanitarian response and freedom of movement is restricted by the presence of armed actors and landmines.”

The UN officials said Madaya town last received a joint convoy from Syrian Arab Red Crescent, United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross on 18th October 2015 and medical evacuations in December, but has been inaccessible since then despite numerous requests for access.