Conditions in besieged Yarmouk refugee camp 'beyond inhumane'
Civilians trapped in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria's capital fled to safer areas amid intense shelling and clashes between Palestinian armed factions and Islamic militants who took over most of the camp.
Hatem al-Dimashqi, an activist based in an area just south of Damascus, said the Yarmouk camp was under attack Monday.
Both Al-Dimashqi and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) also said Syrian government's air force has dropped several barrel bombs on the camp since Sunday.
UN official, Chris Gunness, described the situation as "beyond inhumane" and issued an urgent appeal to save the residents and secure them safe passage out of the camp.
|The situation in the camp is beyond inhumane. It is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame
- UN official Chris Gunness
"The situation in Yarmouk is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame," Gunness said, adding that the agency has not been able to send any food nor any convoys into the camp since the fighting started.
"That means that there is no food, there is no water and there is very little medicine. The situation in the camp is beyond inhumane."
"People are holed up in their houses, there is fighting going on in the streets. There are reports of bombardments. This has to stop and civilians must be evacuated."
Thousands were evacuated from the Yarmouk refugee camp since reports that the Islamic State group (IS) seized 90 percent of besieged area.
"Around 400 families, approximately 2,000 people, were able to leave the camp on Friday and Saturday via two secure roads to the Zahira district, which is under army control," said Anwar Abdul Hadi, a Palestine Liberation Organisation official, adding that Syrian troops had helped in the evacuation.
He said most of those evacuated from the camp were being hosted in government shelters, with at least 25 wounded taken to two hospitals in Damascus.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) a Britain-based monitoring group, confirmed that "hundreds" of people had been evacuated from the camp.
"Yarmouk is a test, a challenge for the international community. We must not fail. The credibility of the international system itself is at stake," the UN official said.
IS fighters attacked the camp on Wednesday, and were initially largely repelled, but were subsequently able to capture large parts of it.
Since IS' advance, Syrian regime forces have also pounded the camp with shells and barrel bombs, according to SOHR.
|Hundreds protest in Gaza calling for protection in Yarmouk (AFP)|
The group added that at least 26 people, including civilians as well as fighters from IS and Palestinian factions, had been killed in the camp since Wednesday.
Among the deaths were at least two Palestinian fighters reportedly beheaded by IS, according to the Observatory and militant social media accounts.
The United Nations says around 18,000 civilians, including a large number of children, are trapped in Yarmouk, which was once home to 160,000 people, Syrians as well as Palestinians.
The camp has been under government siege for nearly two years, leading to starvation and illnesses caused by lack of medical aid.
The camp has also witnessed several rounds of ferocious and deadly fighting between government forces and militants.
An agreement last year between rebels and the government, backed by Palestinian factions, led to an easing of the siege, but humanitarian access has remained limited.
Gaza demands protection
Hundreds took to the streets on Sunday in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis in support of Palestinians trapped in the camp.
"We say it for the thousandth time: hands off the Yarmouk camp, hands off our people, hands off the slaughtered, killed and starved," senior Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil said.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said "The priority must be to save the Palestinian refugees in the camp by creating a safe passage for them out of the death trap that Yarmouk has become."
|Hands off the Yarmouk camp, hands off our people, hands off the slaughtered, killed and starved...
- Senior Hamas official
"We call upon the United Nations and other involved organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as the Syrian government to take all necessary measures to immediately evacuate civilians. Time is quickly running out."
Palestinian officials have accused al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate al-Nusra Front of helping IS to enter the camp.
The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee member Ahmed Majdalani described the situation in Yarmouk as "extremely dangerous".
"If the IS seizes control of the camp, it will turn into a battlefield and a becomes a new frontline with the regime," Majdalani told al-Araby al-Jadeed.
The PLO official blamed the current serious developments in the camp on what he described as "the recent regional and local changes that have shifted alliances inside the camp."
"IS’ assassination of Hamas official Yehia Hourani (Abu Suhaib) in the camp last week was intended to be the trigger for a takeover of the camp" Majdalani added.
"Last year, there were three main forces in control of the camp; Nusra, IS and Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis, as well as smaller Syrian groups, such as Ahrar al-Sham and Suqoor al-Golan [the Golan Hawks]" he elaborated.
"Last August, Hamas and Nusra joined forces and expelled IS from the camp, and their alliance remained strong until last week, when IS secretly teamed up with Nusra, based on which the latter facilitated the IS’ entrance to the camp through al-Hajar al-Aswad on Tuesday, thus starting the clashes."
"The situation further escalated, with Nusra announcing that it was joining IS in the camp on Thursday and declaring its loyalty to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi" said Majdalani.
In a statement, Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh demanded an end to the bloodshed and urged that Yarmouk and its Palestinian residents are kept "away from the wider conflict in Syria."
The United Nation Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) also issued an urgent appeal to save the residents and secure them safe passage out of the camp.
"The situation in Yarmouk is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame," spokesman Chris Gunness said.
"Yarmouk is a test, a challenge for the international community. We must not fail. The credibility of the international system itself is at stake," he said.