A child in Madaya
The New Zealand ambassador has urged the UN to evacuate people in Madaya for medical treatmentGetty

New Zealand ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard van Bohemen, has urged the assembly that nearly 400 people trapped in besieged Madaya town in Syria need to be evacuated for medical treatment. He was speaking at the UN Security Council on 11 January during a discussion on the crisis in the rebel-held town.

"The tactic of siege and starvation is one of the most appalling characteristics of the Syrian conflict. They need medical evacuation on an urgent basis tonight and they want permission from the government of Syria to lift those people out," he said.

The UN confirmed that it has received credible reports of people dying from starvation. The Syrian government, which has blocked humanitarian aid since July, relented only after the images of emaciated children and adults invited worldwide criticism and condemnation.

US ambassador Samantha Power also came down heavily on the Syrian government's tactics. She said the Syrian government is using the "grotesque starve-or-surrender tactics" against its own people. "Look at the haunting pictures of civilians, including children, even babies, in Madaya," she told the UN general assembly.

"These are just the pictures we see. There are hundreds of thousands of people being deliberately besieged, deliberately starved, right now. And these images, they remind us of the Second World War," she added.

On 11 January, 65 lorries laden with humanitarian supplies aid entered Kafrya and al-Foua'a in Idleb countryside and four others entered Madaya in the Damascus countryside at the same time.

They operated in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Syrian Red Crescent and the World Food Programme (WFP). An estimated 40,000 people were reportedly trapped in Madaya and 20,000 people in Foah and Kefraya. At least two dozen people have reportedly died of starvation.

The residents were forced to live on tree leaves, flavoured water, and grass scoured from minefields, and children had been kept from succumbing to malnourishment by being fed sugar serums. However, several have died of hunger, the Guardian reports.

One resident, Hiba Abdel Rahman said "I saw a young man killing cats and presenting the meat to members of his family as rabbit. Some people went through garbage bins, others ate grass. We sought food from the fighters but they refused to give it to us," the BBC reported.

When the lorries arrived, people approached every five minutes to ask, "Listen, did you bring food, did you bring medicine?" said Pawel Krzysiek, a representative of ICRC in Madaya. "Some are smiling and waving at us but many are just simply too weak, with a very bleak expression, too tired," he added.