DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Aid convoys were heading to besieged villages in northern Syria and near the Lebanese border on Monday, Syria's official news agency and humanitarian groups said, as residents gathered in the streets for desperately needed food and medicine.
SANA said the deliveries were headed toward the adjacent Shiite villages of Foua and Kfarya in Idlib province, under siege by rebels seeking to oust President Bashar Assad, as well as toward Madaya, which is blockaded by government troops and the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group.
The aid operation was agreed on last week. Activists have reported several deaths from starvation over the past weeks in the affected areas, and images of starvation have been circulated across social media.
The United Nations and Red Cross also reported that the convoys were on their way, while the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the aid was expected to reach the towns in the coming hours.
The television channel of Hezbollah, which is fighting in Syria alongside Assad's forces, reported that 40 trucks were expected to enter the northern villages, with another 40 headed to Madaya. In Madaya, Al-Manar showed a group of people including women and children waiting for the convoys at the town's main entrance.
The U.N.'s World Food Programme has said it will ship one month's worth of food for more than 40,000 people to Madaya from Damascus, and enough for 20,000 people to Foua and Kfarya from the city of Homs.
Also Monday, SANA reported that rocket fire presumably fired by rebels hit a residential neighborhood in the northern city of Aleppo, killing three children and wounding two other people. It said the Syrian army had begun a large offensive in the countryside to the west of the city.
And in the northern village of Kafranbel, two prominent activists were released after being detained by the extremist Nusra Front.
The two men, Raed Fares and Hadi Abdullah, were abducted by Nusra, al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate, in an early morning raid Sunday that saw their opposition radio station, Radio Fresh, shut down.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and other sources inside Syria, reported their release some 12 hours later. The release was also noted on the station's social media pages.
In Damascus, Iran's interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, reasserted his country's support for Syria at a joint press conference with his Syrian counterpart, Mohammad al-Shaar.
"The Syrian government has demanded our support against terrorism and we, anyway, stood alongside (President Bashar) Assad, who enjoys his people's support," he said. "We see the conditions in Syria are moving forward in a good way."