BEIRUT (Reuters) - Two-year-old Emir al-Bash's blood still showed on his mother's hand as she sat in a medical center in Syria's besieged eastern Ghouta where his body was taken after he died from a shellblast.
His family had left their home in the village of Kafr Batna on Monday for a market in a nearby village, seeking food for their malnourished children, but a mortar shell landed close to them, instantly killing the boy.
"My child died hungry. We wanted to feed him. He was crying from hunger when we left the house," said the mother, Heba Amouri. Emir is the second child she has lost since the war began six years ago.
Eastern Ghouta is the last big stronghold of rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad near the capital Damascus and has been besieged for years.
The United Nations estimates it is home to 400,000 civilians and says food and medical supplies have run low. The army and its allies - Russia and Iran-backed militias - bombard it daily. Rebels there shell government-held Damascus.
After Emir's death, Amouri tried to quiet her surviving baby, a hungry two-month-old girl, by placing her finger in her mouth at the medical center. Malnutrition means she is unable to breastfeed, she said.
On Saturday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it was alarmed by the ongoing violence in eastern Ghouta and the growing number of civilian casualties and displacement since the start of the year.
"Now I lost my second child. My baby daughter is the only surviving child," Mahmoud al-Bash, 27, Emir's father said. A year ago, the family lost another son to the bombardment.
The United Nations children's agency UNICEF said in November that 11.9 percent of children under five in eastern Ghouta suffered acute malnourishment.
Mothers of infants had reduced breastfeeding or stopped it altogether because of their own poor nutrition, it said.
On Monday evening, Emir's father carried Emir's tiny body wrapped in bright white cloth, marked with a big blood stain, to the village's cemetery.
"May God protect the children, and everyone, and take the life of Bashar (al-Assad)," he said, fixing his eyes on his child as he bid him a last farewell.
(Writing by Beirut bureau; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)