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Aid Convoys Enter Besieged Syrian Towns

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A convoy consisting of Red Cross, Red Crescent and United Nation (UN) gather before heading towards to Madaya from Damascus, and to al Foua and Kefraya in Idlib province, Syria, Jan. 11, 2016.

A convoy consisting of Red Cross, Red Crescent and United Nation (UN) gather before heading towards to Madaya from Damascus, and to al Foua and Kefraya in Idlib province, Syria, Jan. 11, 2016.

The International Red Cross said early Tuesday its joint effort to bring much needed aid to the Syrian town of Madaya, near the Lebanon border, was complete.

Spokesman Pawel Krzysiek said on Twitter that ICRC, United Nations and Syrian Red Crescent teams were leaving the area, but that there was "more aid to follow in the next days."

Rebels control Madaya, and for months pro-government forces have blockaded the town of about 42,000 people that last received food assistance in October. The U.N. and others say people have died of starvation.

"The first impression is really heartbreaking," the spokesman said from Madaya. "You see a lot of people on the street, some of them smiling and waving to us, but many just simply too weak with a very, very bleak expression, very tired."

U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien said 400 people faced death unless immediately evacuated for medical treatment.

The deal to get aid in is welcome, but not enough, says London-based activist Fadah Jassem, whose grandparents, aunts and uncles are in Madaya.

"They are cold, they are starving, they are exhausted, and they just want to get out," she said. “We welcome the news that aid has finally been able to get in today, but we are told these aid packages only last for up to a month."

Video: Aid trucks roll into Madaya

Syrian government forces and their allies deny blockading Madaya, but that is simply false, Jassem says.

"They [the government] have been starving people,” she said. “It is a systematic and dirty war tactic that they have been using for over two years now in Syria. Madaya is not the first place this has been happening."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the United States is pressing "all parties" on humanitarian access to Madaya.

"We need full access and that's what we agreed on in the ISSG [International Syria Support Group] meeting in New York and the U.N. Security Council,” he said Monday during a news conference.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said the aid delivered to Madaya is "nowhere near enough" and stressed the importance of Syria allowing immediate humanitarian access for all those in need.

"The humanitarian crisis in Madaya is but one more sign of the Assad regime's brutality throughout Syria. Such suffering should not and need not continue," she said.

Map shows location of Fuaa, Kafraya, and Madaya, Syria

Map shows location of Fuaa, Kafraya, and Madaya, Syria

Syria's Ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari, said his government is cooperating with the aid delivery, but denied there is starvation in Madaya.

Speaking to reporters Monday at the United Nations, Ja'afari said there is false information about the situation in the town, and said pictures of starving people are "fabrications."

He also said some aid is being looted by what he called "armed terrorist groups."

FILE - Children and Lebanese activists from the Islamic group Jamaa Islamiya hold a sit-in in solidarity with the Syrian besieged town of Madaya, outside the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) headquarters in Beirut, Jan. 8, 2016.

FILE - Children and Lebanese activists from the Islamic group Jamaa Islamiya hold a sit-in in solidarity with the Syrian besieged town of Madaya, outside the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) headquarters in Beirut, Jan. 8, 2016.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Arab media that 49 aid trucks are heading to the opposition town of Madaya and 21 others are heading to the government towns of Kafraya and Foua.

"Madaya is now effectively an open-air prison for an estimated 20,000 people, including infants, children, and elderly," Doctors Without Borders Director of Operations Brice de le Vingne said in a statement by the organization last week.

In Fuaa and Kafraya, the rebels have been responsible for sieges that left people there in need of urgent help.

Getting aid to the three areas will make only a small dent in the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The U.N. says 13.5 million people need assistance. The fighting has forced more than 4 million people to flee the country and has displaced another 6.6 million within Syria.

The conflict that began in March 2011 has killed more than 250,000 people. The latest multinational effort to broker a peace deal comes later this month when the U.N. special envoy for Syria plans to bring the warring sides together for peace talks in Geneva.

The last rounds of U.N. brokered talks two years ago ended with little progress.

VOA State Department Correspondent Pamela Dockins and Edward Yeranian contributed to this report, as did U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer and Henry Ridgwell from London.

FILE - A man rides a bicycle past damaged buildings in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Nov. 26, 2015.

FILE - A man rides a bicycle past damaged buildings in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Nov. 26, 2015.

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