Picture believed to show a starving man in Madaya, Syria, eating rubbishTwitter

Residents of three besieged towns in Syria are being forced to eat grass in order to fend off starvation, say activists. The situation in the villages is "extremely dire", the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned.

In the villages of Foua and Kfarya in Idlib province, which are besieged by rebel groups, residents have been forced to eat grass to survive and undergo surgery without anaesthesia, two fighters who recently escaped the villages told AP.

In the rebel-controlled village of Madaya near Damascus people are dying of starvation, or risking death from sniper fire to scavenge for food, activists say.

"For far too long, people were left without basic necessities such as food and medicine," Syria-based ICRC spokesman Pawl Krzysiek said. "It is the ICRC's utmost priority to deliver in the coming days to people there."

Madaya, which is about 25km (15 miles) north-west of Damascus has been besieged since July 2015 by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and members of Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.

No lorries carrying food have been allowed to enter the village since October, with the village's 40,000 inhabitants slowly starving as winter worsens.

UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims that more than 10 people have died of starvation in recent weeks, and 13 have been killed by snipers or blown up by landmines leaving the town in search of food.

"Citizens are dying. They're eating stuff off the ground. They're eating cats and dogs," an activist whose family is inside Madaya told the BBC on 5 January.

The ICRC said it was not able to confirm the deaths.

A local official told AP that the cost of goods has soared, with a kg of crushed wheat selling for about $250 (£170)and 900g of powdered milk for infants going for about $300.

Wounded fighters evacuated from Foah and Kefraya as part of a deal which also saw civilians and fighters evacuated from the town of Zabadani, near Madaya, said that residents were starving and dying as a result of a lack of medical supplies. One described the situation as "catastrophic".

Conditions in the towns have worsened since September, when rebels captured a nearby air base housing helicopters used to take off to drop food to the 30,000 residents.

Government forces are alleged by activists to have besieged Madaya in response to the siege of Foua and Kfarya. Mr Krzysiek said that access to the villages was yet to be negotiated.