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Hunger, death grip Damascus

BY DIAA HADID Associated Press

BEIRUT - Children, the elderly and others displaced by Syria's civil war are starving to death in a besieged camp where women brave sniper fire to forage for food just minutes from the relative prosperity of Damascus.

The dire conditions at the Yarmouk camp are a striking example of the catastrophe unfolding in rebel-held areas blockaded by the Syrian government. U.S. and Russian diplomats said Monday the warring sides are considering opening humanitarian corridors to let in aid and build confidence ahead of an international peace conference on Syria.

Interviews with residents and U.N. officials, as well as photos and videos provided to The Associated Press, reveal an unfolding tragedy in the sprawling camp, where tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and displaced Syrians are trapped under an intensifying yearlong blockade.

Forty-six people have died since October of starvation, illnesses exacerbated by hunger or because they couldn't obtain medical aid, residents said.

"There are no more people in Yarmouk, only skeletons with yellow skin," said 27-year-old resident Umm Hassan, the mother of two toddlers.

"Children are crying from hunger. The hospital has no medicine. People are just dying," she told the AP by telephone, adding that her 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son were rapidly losing weight from lack of food.

The dead include Isra al-Masri, an emaciated toddler who passed away on Saturday swaddled in a woolen sweater, her eyes sunken, her skin darkened, her swollen tongue wedged between her lips. The child was filmed minutes before her death, slowly blinking as she was held by an unidentified woman in a video sent to the AP by a 25-year-old resident, Sami Alhamzawi.

Other deaths suggest the extent of desperation among residents: Teenager Mazen al-Asali hung himself in late December after returning home without food to feed his starving mother. An elderly man was beaten to death by thieves who ransacked his home, looking for food and money.

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