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UN says 15 have died of hunger-related illnesses in besieged Palestinian area of Damascus

A U.N. official in Syria says 15 people have died of hunger-related illnesses in a besieged area of Damascus that is home to Palestinian refugees.

Chris Gunness of the U.N.'s Relief Works Agency said Monday that at least five people died over the weekend in Yarmouk. He says 10 had died earlier in the rebel-held area, which is surrounded by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

Clashes in the Palestinian-populated Yarmouk, which has mostly been under rebel control since last year, had broken out last week.

Gunness says malnutrition was first reported among Yarmouk's estimated 2,000 civilians, after the U.N. was unable to deliver food there since September.

Assad's forces have surrounded rebel-held areas across Syria, denying civilians food and fuel to pressure them to evict the fighters among them.