Evacuation talks under way for besieged Syria town: Red Cross

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Beirut (AFP)

Humanitarian groups are negotiating with all sides for the evacuation of 400 people, many starving, from the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, the Red Cross said on Tuesday.

More than two dozen people have reportedly starved to death in Madaya, which received its first aid delivery of food and medicine on Monday after a six-month government siege.

The United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are now working to evacuate around 400 people in need of urgent care, said ICRC spokesman Pawel Krzysiek.

"It's a very complicated process that needs permission to realise this humanitarian operation. We are in negotiations with all parties," Krzysiek told AFP.

On Monday, a convoy of 44 trucks loaded with food, baby formula, blankets and other supplies entered Madaya as part of a six-month truce deal reached in September 2014.

Syria's UN envoy Bashar Jaafari dismissed reports of starvation in Madaya as fabrications and accused "terrorists" inside the town of stealing the supplies.

On Monday, UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien said Syria's regime should allow the 400 people to leave the town to receive "life-saving medical attention."

"They are in grave peril of losing their lives," O'Brien told reporters after a UN Security Council meeting.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) welcomed the calls for evacuation but said a long-term solution was needed.

"The medics in Madaya are not equipped for technical hospitalisation of really critical cases," the medical group said in an emailed statement.

But "MSF wants to know what will happen next week, or next month, for critically ill patients. Will they have a medical evacuation option? A one-off humanitarian visit and then a return to siege-starvation will not be acceptable," it said.

More than 260,000 people have been killed since Syria's war erupted in March 2011.