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Activists: Two Syrian boys die of malnutrition in cutoff town

By Yousuf Basil, CNN
updated 9:04 PM EDT, Sun September 1, 2013
In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Activists and an opposition group say they died of malnutrition
  • They say their town has been cut off by Syrian forces since November
  • 12,000 people in the town need food and medicine, residents say
  • The ICRC says those shortages plague a number of Syrian areas

(CNN) -- Two children died Saturday in the suburbs of the Syrian capital -- not because of guns, bombs or other weapons, but because of malnutrition, activists and an opposition group said.

The two boys suffered from marasmus, a type of acute malnutrition that can very quickly lead to death if not treated, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Ibrahim Khalil was 4; Ammar Arafa was even younger, but his exact age wasn't known, opposition activist Ahmed Al-Muadami said from the town, Moadamiyet al-Sham, in the Damascus suburbs.

Moadamiyet al-Sham was one of the areas affected by the alleged chemical weapons attack August 21. It was the first town United Nations inspectors visited this week to gather evidence about the attack and speak to the wounded.

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Al-Muadami said the town has been under siege by Syrian troops since last November and that the situation there is "disastrous."

"We ran out of food supplies and we cannot get anything into the town," he said.

Doctors lacked the medicine and necessary nutrients to treat the children because of the siege, the Syrian Observatory said.

"We haven't seen a piece of bread for six months now," said another resident, Abu Alnour. "We went through our food supplies, local produce and cattle."

He said government checkpoints and snipers are blocking all the roads leading into the town and are not allowing anything in or out. The Syrian government typically calls rebels "armed terrorists."

"The Red Crescent tried to send an aid shipment into the town in early July but the government forces denied them access, and that was the last aid shipment we heard about," Al-Muadami said.

The barrier and checkpoint at Moadamiyet al-Sham is well known in the region and is staffed by security forces, militiamen and regime loyalists, the opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights says.

Some 12,000 people in the town are now in desperate need of food items and medicine, he said. Those who are seriously injured or sick are trapped.

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The town has been without power for 10 months, and residents are suffering water shortages because shelling has destroyed water pipes, he said.

"If we were able to get those two children out of the town to be treated in a hospital, they would have been alive now," Al-Muadami said.

Videos purportedly showing the boys shows their ribs protruding and their limbs stick-thin. One video is said to show Ibrahim while still alive, on respiratory support; two others show Ibrahim and Ammar lying dead on their hospital beds.

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Al-Muadami said activists in the town filmed the videos and posted them online.

CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the videos or reports of violence, as the Syrian government has restricted access to international journalists.

The International Committee of the Red Cross on Thursday reported acute shortages of vital medical supplies, food and water in a number of areas that have been sealed off for months, where the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have not been given access.

"In large parts of rural Damascus, for example, people are dying because they lack medical supplies and because there are not enough medical personnel to attend to them. They also go hungry because aid can't get through to them on a regular basis," said Magne Barth, head of the ICRC's delegation in Syria.

The group said more than 100,000 people have reportedly been killed since the fighting began more than two years ago. Hundreds of people die every day, it said.

Across the country Saturday, 39 people died amid shelling, air strikes, cluster bombs and missiles, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria. Ten children were among the dead, the group said, but it wasn't clear whether that number included the two boys in Moadamiyet al-Sham.

CNN's Melissa Gray contributed to this report.

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