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Aid Convoy Reaches Starving Syrians In Southern City Of Madaya


A glimpse now of a besieged Syrian city. Government forces this week finally allowed some food, medical and other aid into Madaya. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had been slowly starving that Syrian city to death. Pawel Krzysiek of the Red Cross was on the aid convoy.

Welcome to the program.


INSKEEP: What did you see in Madaya?

KRZYSIEK: Well, when we were entering with the convoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the U.N., when the first trucks actually were entering Madaya, we've seen the relief on those people's faces - relief, but also a certain degree of hesitation whether this is really happening.

INSKEEP: Did you sense that this is a city full of people? - which I ask simply because there's so many refugees. So many people may have left.

KRZYSIEK: Well, you know, we entered in the middle of the night, as did the synchronization between Madaya, Foua and Kafraya took quite a long time. So my first impression, despite, you know, the crowds, you know, on the main street, was that the city is kind of deserted. There was no electricity, so when you were looking at houses there, you could just see nothing but darkness. Yet, you knew that the people were waiting. You knew it. You heard it. The people were coming, thanking us. Some were angry that it took us so long. And of course, we cannot really blame them. On little girl came to me and said - did you bring food? You know, I was waiting so long for this food, you know. And it was this emotional punch that you get when you step out of the car.

INSKEEP: To the extent that you could see in the dark, what were the battle lines like that you crossed on the way in? Were there, for example, trench lines facing each other?

KRZYSIEK: It's very similar in all places under the siege. So you have to cross a buffer zone, usually it's a zone that has seen very, very heavy fighting. You cross couple of checkpoints and then, you know, the very last checkpoint controlled by the government forces and then you enter the town of Madaya. And you are basically there inside, surrounded by the people who are coming and really looking at you and smiling because you managed to enter, and they haven't seen anyone from outside for a very long time (laughter).

INSKEEP: What leverage finally persuaded Bashar al-Assad's government to let you in? And are they going to let you in again?

KRZYSIEK: So the humanitarian aid convoy to this Madaya is a part of a political agreement that is not between the ICRC, the SARC or the U.N. or one party or another, but it's the agreement between the two warring factions in this conflict. At the same time as Madaya, the aid has to also be delivered to two other besieged towns in the north in the Idlib Governorate. Those towns are in very dire needs of assistance. And they are besieged by an opposition group, so, in fact, this is the agreement that dictates the delivery of humanitarian aid here.

INSKEEP: So, this agreement also will allow the aid to continue to flow?

KRZYSIEK: We certainly hope so. We managed to deliver only, let's say, a first round of humanitarian aid. We are hoping right now that in the coming days we will get more aid through to those three besieged towns on both sides of the front lines.

INSKEEP: Pawel Krzysiek, thank you very much.

KRZYSIEK: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He's with the Red Cross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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