File photo of Syrian children hold plastic buckets as they wait for food handouts in eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus. (Photo: Reuters)
The Syrian town of Mouadamiya is newly under siege by Syrian government forces, the United Nations said on Sunday, adding 45,000 to the number of people it says are cut off from humanitarian aid and medical help in Syria.
The development comes as President Bashar al-Assad's government faces a demand from the UN Security Council to improve humanitarian access as part of UN-mediated peace talks with an opposition delegation in Geneva.
It has already attracted global criticism for its siege of Madaya, where dozens have starved to death.
Mouadamiya, on the southwestern edge of Damascus, has been under the control of opposition armed groups since mid-2012. Syrian government forces surrounded it in 2013 but began allowing aid access in mid-2014 under a local deal.
However, government forces closed the only entry point on Dec. 26 last year, after allowing 50-100 government employees to leave. Other civilians were not warned of the closure, the UN said.
"Due to increased closures imposed on the town in December 2015, the UN re-classified (Mouadamiya) as 'besieged' as of 27 January 2016," it said in a statement, adding that the town continued to be subject to sporadic shelling.
Living conditions were already dire but deteriorated further since the recent closure reportedly led to severe shortages of food, medicines and other basic commodities, it said.
There had been eight deaths reported since Jan. 1 because of lack of proper medical care, and reports of malnutrition but no related deaths, it said.
The town has not had electricity since November 2012, and most residents fetch untreated water manually from wells. The last food aid delivery was on Dec. 24, since when the UN has twice asked to bring in a convoy.
One request was granted as long as delivery was outside the town, the UN said. Discussions were still going on about getting aid into the town.
The UN said there were 486,700 people under siege in Syria, in areas controlled by the government, Islamic State militants and other insurgent groups, among about 4.6 million who are hard to reach with humanitarian aid.