The Syrian government has agreed to allow humanitarian assistance into three beleaguered villages where deaths from malnutrition have been reported, a UN official said on Thursday (local time).
Meanwhile, the aid group Doctors Without Borders said 23 patients have died from starvation at an MSF-supported health centre in one of the three villages since December 1 - including six infants under 12 months of age and five adults over the age of 60.
A statement from Yacoub El Hillo, UN's Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, said aid will begin entering the villages in the coming days.
Two of the villages in question are the adjacent Shi'ite villages of Foua and Kfarya in the country's north, which have been besieged by anti-government militants for more than a year. The third is the village of Madaya near the Lebanese border, which has been under siege by government forces since early July.
"The UN welcomes today's approval from the government of Syria to access Madaya, Foua and Kfarya and is preparing to deliver humanitarian assistance in the coming days," said El Hillo.
Activists have said that several people have died over the past weeks in both areas because of malnutrition. There are currently some 30,000 people in the two Shi'ite villages and even more in Madaya.
"Almost 42,000 people remaining in Madaya are at risk of further hunger and starvation," El Hillo warned.
El Hillo said the UN is particularly concerned about the plight of nearly 400,000 people besieged by parties to the conflict in areas including the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, as well as the Damascus suburbs known as eastern Ghoua.
In the meantime, Syrian President Bashar Assad's government has repeatedly denied UN requests to deliver aid to specific areas.
"In the last year, only 10 percent of all requests for UN inter-agency convoys to hard-to-reach and besieged areas were approved and delivered," the statement said.
He added that up to 4.5 million people in Syria live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged locations who do not have access to the lifesaving aid they urgently need.
The conflict which began in March 2011 has killed more than 250,000 people and wounded more than a million. The crisis has also displaced half of Syria's pre-war 23 million population.
From Brussels, Doctors Without Borders also called for an immediate delivery of lifesaving medicine and medical evacuations, in addition to food supplies to Madaya, where it reported the 23 deaths from starvation.