Residents of a rebel-held town near Damascus are suffering from severe malnutrition and have little access to fuel and medical supplies because of a siege by the Syrian military.

The town of Madaya, about 25 kilometres north-west of Damascus, has been under siege since July by President Bashar al-Assad's soldiers and fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.

Local activists say an estimated 40,000 people have little access to food and medicines.

"Food is rare. We cannot provide milk for infants," Khaled Mohammed, a doctor at a field hospital, said on Wednesday. "Today, a 10-year-old chid died of malnutrition. People are eating grass to stay alive."

The doctor told dpa that "most of the people in Madaya suffer from severe malnutrition to the extent that they started about 10 days ago to slaughter dogs and cats and eat their flesh."

"The situation in Madaya is very difficult," spokesman for the Red Cross in Damascus, Pawel Krzysiek, said.

"People are hungry and it is very cold out there with no electricity or fuel," Krzysiek told dpa, adding that locals were heating plastic to keep themselves warm.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition warned of a "humanitarian catastrophe" in Madaya.

"There must be an immediate move to save lives of the civilians and end siege on Madaya and other areas in Syria," the alliance said in a statement.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that at least 23 people, including children, had died in Madaya because of the siege and mines laid by al-Assad's forces around the town.

At least 300 children in Madaya are also suffering from malnutrition, the Britain-based monitoring group reported.

More than 250,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Syria's conflict since it started in 2011.

Nine people were killed and more than 30 wounded in shelling Wednesday on government-held central Damascus, the Observatory and state media reported.

Rocket shells hit Abid Street, which runs between the parliament building and the central bank, as well as other areas of the city centre, the watchdog said.

Central Damascus is regularly hit by mortar and rocket shells fired from rebel-held areas on the outskirts of the capital, which have themselves been devastated by three years of artillery shelling and airstrikes.

State news agency SANA blamed the shelling on the Army of Islam, a powerful rebel group which controls most of the eastern suburbs. A spokesman for the group told dpa it was not responsible.

The Army of Islam's commander, Zahran Alloush, was killed in an airstrike in late December, two weeks after the group participated in an opposition summit in Saudi Arabia aimed at putting together a negotiating team for planned peace talks later this month.

Related stories

Latest news

Gambia's new President Barrow fires army chief

Gambia's new President Adama Barrow has sacked army chief Ousman Badjie, replacing him with a presidential military aide.

Star investor Buffett takes a bigger bite of Apple, doubling shares

Stock market guru Warren Buffett on Monday revealed that his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway doubled its share of iPhone producer Apple stocks last month.

Minister: Erdogan not welcome in Austria for referendum campaign

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should not come to Austria to campaign to Turkish citizens living there ahead of a constitutional reform referendum in his country, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said Monday.

Migrant group: Britain hits 'new low' by deporting grandmother

Britain has hit a "new low" by deporting a grandmother from north-eastern England to Singapore, a migrants' rights group said on Monday.

Turkish prosecutors seek arrest warrant for detained German reporter

Turkish prosecutors are seeking an arrest warrant for German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, who was taken into police custody 13 days ago.

1.4 million people without water after deadly floods in Chile

More than 1.4 million people were without drinking water in the Chilean capital of Santiago on Monday following catastrophic flooding that left at least three people dead.

Serbia PM says no snap parliamentary election

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Monday that an early parliamentary election would not be held simultaneously with a presidential vote, although the state leadership had announced such a possibility.  

Trump touts 'security budget' with 10-per-cent defence spending hike

US President Donald Trump said he will present a "public security and national security budget," which will hike defence spending by 54 billion dollars or about 10 per cent.

National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen fined for Roma comments

The founder of France's far-right National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had a 5,000-euro (5,300-dollar) fine for inciting racial hatred and discrimination confirmed on appeal on Monday.

Croatia-Montenegro relations example for region, says minister

After meeting Croatian Ambassador Veselko Grubisic in Podgorica on Monday, Montenegrin Defence Minister Predrag Boskovic said that relations between Croatia and Montenegro were very good and could serve as an example to other countries in the region.

Over 31,000 South Sudanese flee fighting and hunger to Sudan

Fleeing escalating fighting and famine in South Sudan, over 31,000 people have arrived in neighbouring Sudan so far this year, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said Monday.

SDP urges gov't to pull statement making radical turn in human rights

The opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) on Monday called on the government to take a position on the Croatian foreign policy's turn in human rights, which it said was initiated by Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier, and to withdraw a Foreign Ministry statement on that sent to Brussels.

Police says photoshopped photo of Milanka Opacic motivated by hate

An investigation has proved that a photograph showing Parliament Deputy Speaker Milanka Opacic wearing a shirt with four Cyrillic letters "S" (standing for "only unity saves the Serb", a popular motto and slogan in Serbia and among Serb nationalists) is a photomontage and the police suspect that publishing and distributing the said photo has been motivated by hate and intolerance.

Finance Ministry says didn't analyse HEP's readiness for IPO

The Ministry of Finance on Monday announced that it had not analysed the justification or the readiness of power provider Hrvatska Elektroprivreda (HEP) for an initial public offering with regard to a possible acquisition of Hungarian energy company MOL's stake in Croatia's INA.

Berlin confirms murder of German hostage in the Philippines

Berlin confirmed on Monday the murder of a German hostage by the militant Islamist group Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines with Chancellor Angela Merkel condemning the killing as "barbaric" and "abominable".

Syrian refugees arrive in Italy with help from Christian groups

A group of 50 Syrian refugees, more than half of them children, landed in Italy early Monday, entering the country on humanitarian visas obtained with the help of a lay Catholic NGO, Protestant organizations and the Italian government.

Macedonian opposition claims right to assume government

Macedonia's opposition Social Democratic (SDSM) leader Zoran Zaev on Monday said that he expects to take over as prime minister because he has managed to build a majority in parliament.

EU tightens sanctions on North Korea in response to nuclear test

The European Union tightened sanctions against North Korea on Monday adding import bans and other restrictions to already tough measures in place against the reclusive regime.