U.N. warns of hunger in Homs as Syrian offensive strands 120,000

GENEVA (Reuters) - A military offensive by Syrian government and allied forces has cut off 120,000 people in the northern Homs governorate since mid-January, worsening hunger and killing patients unable to get to medical care, a U.N. report said on Thursday. "There are reports of increasingly acute shortages of food, basic commodities, medical items and fuel in the area. With the irregular supply routes used until mid-January now cut off, food items that are still available are now being sold at much higher prices," said the report by the U.N. humanitarian office. Bread prices are already 10 times higher than in the city of Homs, and unaffordable for most families. Northern Homs governorate is mostly farming land, but the fields yield little in winter and hunger is expected to spike in the next two weeks, the report said. Basic medical supplies are also in short supply, the report said, noting dialysis patients in rural Homs were unable to access lifesaving treatment and 14 out of 34 cancer patients in the area had reportedly died due to lack of medical care. The last U.N. aid convoy reached rural northern Homs in October 2015. The U.N. has been trying to send additional supplies since then, but has been unable to get approval. The two enclaves are controlled by opposition groups and lie between the cities of Homs and Hama in a pocket of land close to Syria's north-south highway -- which links most of its main cities -- and the Mediterranean provinces that are the homeland of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority. There are 90,000 people in one enclave around the towns of Rastan and Talbiseh and a further 30,000 in another around Houla. The severing of the supply lines has stopped U.N. food supplies reaching the enclaves, where 12.7 percent of children and 25 percent of pregnant women are suffering from moderate acute malnutrition, much higher than the national average of 4.9 percent, the U.N. said. The area has been targeted by airstrikes and shelling since the end of October. There has been no electricity since then, and no pumped drinking water in Rastan and Talbiseh. (Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Katharine Houreld)