BEIRUT — Syrian opposition groups and international relief organizations are warning of the risk of mass starvation across the country, especially in the besieged Damascus suburbs where a gas attack killed hundreds last month.
With the world's attention focused on the regime's chemical weapons, activists said six people — including an 18-month girl — have died for lack of food in one of the stricken suburbs in recent weeks.
Save the Children said in an appeal Monday that more than 4 million Syrians, more than half of them children, do not have enough to eat. Food shortages have been compounded by an explosion in prices.
"The world has stood and watched as the children of Syria have been shot, shelled and traumatized by the horror of war," said Roger Hearn, Save the Children's regional director for the Middle East. "The conflict has already left thousands of children dead, and is now threatening their means of staying alive."
Thousands of people are believed trapped in suburbs east and west of the capital that have been held for months by rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad. Regime troops are besieging the areas, and residents say food is increasingly had to find. Rebels say they are trying to break the blockade.
The suburbs were the site of the Aug. 21 attack that a U.N. report found included the use of the nerve gas sarin. They were home to more than 2 million people before the war, but it is unclear how many are there now.
In some hard-hit areas such as the western suburb of Moadamiyeh, people are running out of food and are mostly relying on lentils, olives and dried figs, according to residents and activists.
According to the Moadamiyeh Media Center, six people have died of starvation over the past 20 days: two women and four children ages 18 months to 7 years. It added that 15 other children are in intensive care in clinics, suffering from malnutrition.