Tens of thousands of people are trapped in the rural Syrian town of Madaya, which has been caught in a tug-of-war between rebels and pro-government forces—and Doctors Without Borders says the situation is so bad that at least 23 people have died of starvation since Dec. 1, including six babies, the Washington Post reports. One activist says as many as 41 have died, per CNN, though a Thursday UN statement only confirms one death. There's been no food delivery since mid-October, and reports, videos, and photos (mostly still unconfirmed) coming out of Madaya portray a horrific scene of emaciated residents forced to eat cats and grass, with one rescue worker telling the Post people have been dying every day. "We were eating leaves and grass, but these days there are no more leaves because of the snow," Hassan Abu Shadi told the paper via telephone. "There is nothing left but salt and water."
One rep from Doctors Without Borders said in a statement that Madaya has become "an open-air prison," adding those who try to escape the town are wounded or killed by gunfire or land mines. Abu Shadi points the finger at pro-Assad Hezbollah fighters, but Hezbollah insists rebels are keeping people in Madaya, per the Post. The UN, which has deemed the starvation reports "credible," says government permission is required to send food to those in need, and Thursday the group noted Syria had given the OK to let aid convoys into Madaya and two other besieged towns, CNN and the AP report. Meanwhile, Madaya residents have taken to social media to plead for help and show photos of corpses. In one unconfirmed video cited by CNN, a man cries, "What did we do? My children, they're dying. Bring guns, bring angels, but God, help us."