Syria: Yarmouk camp under regime bombardment

The Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus came under bombardment Jan. 16 by the Bashar Assad regime's improvised TNT-filled "barrel-bombs," dropped by helicopter, resulting in the death of at least five residents. The attack destroyed one apartment block and severely damaged others, and it is feared that more casualties may still be beneath the rubble. The strike apparently targeted a section of the camp controlled by the Omari Battalion, aligned with the Free Syrian Army. The battalion's commander Ismail Abu Hani al-Omari said that militants in the village of Yalda west of Yarmouk brought down the helicopter with a missile after it struck the camp. (Oximity, Jan. 18; Ma'an New Agency, Jan. 17)

Earlier in the week, an effort by the PLO to ease conditions in the besieged Yarmouk camp by bringing in supply trucks loaded with food and medicine was thwarted when the trucks came under missile fire, apparently from militants within the camp. Access for the six truckloads of aid had been arranged by UNRWA, but the attack on the convoy prevented the supplies from reaching the camp. It was unclear which faction fired on the convoy, but both anti-regime groups like the Nusra Front as well as pro-regime groups like PFLP-GC have acted to undermine attempts to lift the siege on the camp. 

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told Ma'an New Agency, "There is profound civilian suffering in Yarmouk with widespread incidence of malnutrition and the absence of medical care, including for those who have severe conflict-related injuries, and including for women in childbirth, with fatal consequences for some women…. I emphasize that the imperative remains that Syrian authorities and other parties must allow and facilitate safe and open humanitarian access into Yarmouk to enable us to assist civilians trapped there."

According to a count by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 41 Palestinians have died so far as a result of food and medicine shortages at the Yarmouk camp.

After rebels seized control of Yarmouk in December 2012, the camp became embroiled in the armed fighting. Regime forces eventually encircled the camp and last July imposed a siege on the camp, leading to a rapid deterioration of living conditions. Yarmouk's population of 250,000 has dwindled to 18,000 after two and a half years of conflict in Syria.

Syria is officially home to nearly half a million Palestinian refugees. Since the war broke out in 2011 half of them have been displaced, becoming refugees for a second time. (PNN, Jan. 14; Ma'an, Jan. 13)