BEIRUT: Some 3,000 civilians trapped in a suffocating Syrian army siege of rebel areas in the city of Homs need urgent food aid, activists said Friday.
"Three thousands civilians, among them 500 aged over 70, are living exclusively off the little food that had been stored in the besieged districts of Homs," said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman.
"People there are barely eating enough to survive," he added.
For more than 500 days, hundreds of families have been living under a tight government siege of rebel-held areas of the Old City neighbourhood of Homs.
The army in July recaptured the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood, and hundreds of people who had been living there for months fled for other neighbourhoods under rebel control.
A few weeks ago, "the last remaining tunnels the rebels were using to bring in supplies were discovered by the army and destroyed. Now, all the people have to eat is what they had in storage", said Abdel Rahman.
Speaking to AFP over the Internet, an activist on the ground said: "The days when we had one meal a day are gone. Now we have barely even that.
"I've heard of individual cases of people eating cat meat out of sheer desperation," said the activist who identified himself as Yazan.
He warned the severe shortages of food including sugar and other sources of energy were causing diseases to spread in the besieged neighbourhoods.
"Most people in the siege are malnourished. You can tell by the way people look and move. More and more people have a low (disease-fighting) white blood cell count and jaundice," said Yazan.
"Common illnesses like the flu spread quickly. People are weak. All we have is bulgur to eat. We're eating one kind of food day in, day out."
The Observatory on Friday renewed a call to humanitarian organisations to evacuate civilians from the besieged neighbourhoods, "and to provide them with guarantees of a safe exit, free from detention" by government troops.
Activists in Homs' besieged neighbourhoods have frequently called for assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent.
Though the ICRC has tried many times to enter into the besieged areas, government restrictions and divisions among rebel groups have made access impossible.