UN chemical weapons experts visit Syrians affected by an apparent gas attack in Mouadamiya
UN chemical weapons experts visit Syrians affected by an apparent gas attack in Mouadamiya Photo by Reuters
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Residents of a Syrian town besieged by President Bashar Assad's forces appealed to the world to "save us from death" in an open letter describing desperate conditions and suffering.

Hundreds of men, women and children in Mouadamiya have died and thousands have been wounded, they said.

Mouadamiya, on the southwest outskirts of the capital Damascus, was occupied by anti-Assad rebels last year and the government has been trying to win it back since then.

"For nearly one year, the city of Mouadamiya has been under siege with no access to food, electricity, medicine, communications, and fuel," said the letter, distributed by the opposition Syrian National Council on Monday.

"We have been hit by rockets, artillery shells, napalm, white phosphorous, and chemical weapons," it said.

The writers, who did not give their names, said they had managed to find enough power to run a computer and connect to the internet to send the letter.

The SNC said nearly 12,000 people face starvation and death in Mouadamiya. About 90 percent of Mouadamiya has been destroyed, few doctors remained, and residents were eating "leaves of trees".

Reuters cannot confirm reports from the besieged town due to government restrictions. The government says the residents of Mouadamiya are being "held hostage" by terrorists, the term it uses for armed opposition groups. It denies using chemical weapons.

United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said last week that despite the government evacuating 3,000 people this month, thousands more remain trapped inside Mouadamiya.

She said that United Nations teams had been denied access. Local doctors have told Reuters that hunger has become severe in recent months.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring organization said on Monday that rebels and government forces clashed on the edges of Mouadamiya overnight and the army bombed the town.

"We appeal to your sense of humanity not to forget us," the residents' letter said. "We implore you to deliver our message to the whole world.

"Save us from death. Save us from the hell of Assad's killing machine."

More than 100,000 people have died during the war, which started with peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule in March 2011 then escalated into a civil war with sectarian overtones.

The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has exceeded 600,000 and more than 400,000 of them are living outside refugee camps, the Turkish disaster management agency said on Monday.

"We conducted a study before the Eid (al-Adha) holidays and the numbers have increased above 600,000," said Mustafa Aydogdu, spokesman for the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD).

Turkey, which shares a 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria, is a strong critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a main supporter of the rebels fighting against him.

It has said it will maintain its "open door" policy to those fleeing the Syrian civil war, now in its third year, although it has closed border crossings from time to time following clashes near the frontier.

About 200,000 Syrians were living in 21 refugee camps, mainly near cities near the border, Aydogdu said, while the rest chose to live in rented accommodation outside the camps.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said in August Turkey has already spent around $2 billion sheltering the refugees. The United Nations expects another 2 million Syrians to become refugees in 2014 and 2.25 million more to be displaced within the country.