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18 Jan, 2016 07:08

Red Cross disputes Bild claims starving Madaya residents are ‘pro-govt actors’

German tabloid Bild has accused starving residents of the Syrian town of Madaya of being “actors.” But RT's correspondent believes some media simply dislike what people suffering from malnutrition had to say about rebels selling off government aid.

Last week RT’s Murad Gazdiev accompanied the Red Cross and the UN convoy that brought food to the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, some 44km northwest of the capital, Damascus, close to the Lebanese border.

The images of hunger-bitten children outraged the world and the stories told by their mothers are truly shocking.

Madaya citizens told RT that the Syrian government had sent them aid, but they never got it because it was seized by the rebels, who sold humanitarian aid off to starving people at ridiculously high prices. A kilogram of rice was fetching as much as $250.

Those filmed by RT - women, children and some men, mostly elderly and sick - were not allowed to leave Madaya because no agreement had been reached and all those people were forced to pick up their bags and go back to the town, where there is no food.

But their words struck the wrong chords with some media outlets, such as Germany’s Bild, which accused the aid organizations and RT of forming a conspiracy with President Bashar Assad.

The German tabloid accused the people trying to escape from Madaya of being “regime actors” of Assad’s government.

Bild journalist Julian Röpcke claimed that the Red Cross and the UN had “caved in” to the Assad regime and RT had filmed a “cynical propaganda show.”

He went on to accuse the Red Cross and the UN’s World Food Program of making “themselves extras” in the “farce.” Röpcke suggested that aid workers may have yielded to Assad’s alleged pressure, forced to release staged photographs or “lose their access to Syria.”

Backing his assertions with accounts from a medical source in Madaya and an activist, the Germany-based journalist claimed that some 300 men, women and children seen in the pictures and RT video as being evacuated from Madaya had never been in the town before. Röpcke claimed they were brought to the city’s checkpoint by Hezbollah in the morning of January 11.

The journalist supported his argument with comments from the UN and the IRC (International Red Cross), both of which have essentially confirmed that no people have been evacuated from Madaya “at this stage.”

RT made a phone call to Bild’s source, Khaled Mohammed, doctor at Madaya’s field hospital, who confirmed that the “regime actors” were not allowed to leave Madaya, despite making it to neutral territory.

“They were turned away at the checkpoint,” Mohammed told RT.

The Red Cross officials who visited Madaya do not question the humanitarian catastrophe in the besieged town.

“We could see a lot of suffering. We could see the misery of the people. We could see the crowds who were waiting to be evacuated; we could see the crowds waiting for aid to be delivered,” Pawel Krzysiek, spokesperson for Red Cross in Syria, told RT.

Röpcke has never actually been to Syria, but runs a twitter feed that essentially amounts to rebel propaganda. He believes Islamists are Syria’s best option.

The armchair critic never saw first-hand the rotting teeth and evident malnutrition of people he accused of being “family members of the ruling Ba’ath party run by the dictator Assad.”