UNRWA: 'thousands' at risk in Yarmouk siege
The United Nations' Palestine refugee agency UNRWA warned Dec. 20 that the lives of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk camp in Damascus are at risk due to the ongoing siege of the camp by Syrian regime forces. Commissioner general of UNRWA Filippo Grandi said that "humanitarian conditions in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk are worsening dramatically and that we are currently unable to help those trapped inside." He stressed that if the situation is not addressed soon, "it may be too late to save the lives of thousands of people including children."
"UNRWA remains constantly committed to assist, but the continued presence of armed groups that entered the area at the end of 2012 and its closure by government forces have thwarted all our humanitarian efforts," he added, referring to the fighting that has gripped the camp since it became embroiled in the armed conflict in Syria in December 2012. "20,000 remaining Palestinians have been trapped inside Yarmouk, and although very alarming reports of hardship and hunger have continued to multiply, since September 2013 we have been unable to enter the area to deliver desperately needed relief supplies."
His comments come days after the PLO announced the failure of an agreement to lift the regime siege on the camp by asking all militant groups to withdraw and allow the area to remain a neutral safe zone. PLO authorities blamed the PFLP-GC, a Palestinian militant group closely aligned with the Syrian government, for foiling that agreement by deploying their troops in the camp.
After rebels seized control of Yarmouk in December 2012, the camp became embroiled in the armed fighting taking place across Syria and came under heavy regime assault. Regime forces eventually encircled the camp and in July imposed a siege on the camp, leading to a rapid deterioration of living conditions. Fatah leader Abbas Zaki told Ma'an in mid-October that Yarmouk's population of 250,000 had dwindled to 18,000 after two and a half years of conflict in Syria.
Grandi called on all parties to "immediately heed their legal obligations and facilitate the urgent provision of humanitarian assistance to Yarmouk and other Palestinian refugee camps where fighting impedes the delivery of such assistance," stressing that the "intolerable situation" must end.
Yarmouk refugee camp was subjected to intense shelling on Friday, Dec. 20, and the sounds of armed clashes were heard at the entrances to the camp. Mazen al-Asali, 18, was reported to have committed suicide after he was unable to secure food to feed his mother and sisters due to a blockade imposed on the camp since July.
Five Palestinians reported killed across Syria on Friday
Five Palestinians were also killed across Syria on Friday in separate incidents linked to the armed conflict, including two who died under torture in Syrian regime prisons. Mohammad Ahmad Mashour from al-Nayrab refugee camp died on Friday early morning amid shelling on Hanano neighborhood of Aleppo. Nawaf Hantash and his wife, whose name was not given, were killed during shelling on Homs, while his daughter wounded.
Ahmad Abu Raya from al-Aideen refugee camp in the central Syrian city of Homs died under torture in a Syrian military prison. He was detained five months ago. Samer Walwel from Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus also died of torture in a Syrian army prison.
At least 1,500 Palestinians have been killed in the ongoing Syria conflict, and around 250,000 Palestinian refugees have been forced to leave their refugee camps in Syria due to violence in the country. Prior to the conflict, 600,000 Palestinian refugees lived in Syria.
Between 7-800,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes inside Israel during the 1948 conflict that led to the creation of the State of Israel, and today their descendants number around five million, spread across the world.
From Ma'an News Agency, Dec. 20