UN: State of Syrian refugee camp ‘beyond inhumane

UN: State of Syrian refugee camp ‘beyond inhumane

UN: State of Syrian refugee camp ‘beyond inhumane

Palestinian refugees queue up to receive aid parcels at the besieged Yarmuk refugee camp, south of Damascus. Only around 20,000 people remain of the 150,000 Palestinian refugess left in the camp. AFP photo

Shelling and sporadic clashes struck a Palestinian refugee camp under attack by Islamic extremists in the Syrian capital on April 6, a situation that a U.N. official described as “beyond inhumane.”

Hatem al-Dimashqi, an activist based in an area just south of Damascus, said the Yarmouk camp was under attack on April 6. Both Al-Dimashqi and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said Syrian government’s air force has dropped several barrel bombs on the camp since April 5.

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants stormed the camp on April 3, marking the jihadist group’s deepest foray yet into Damascus, the Associated Press reported. Palestinian officials and Syrian activists said they were working with rivals from the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front. The two groups have fought bloody battles against each other in other parts of Syria, but appear to be cooperating in the attack on Yarmouk.

Nusra said in a statement it is taking a neutral stance in the camp.

Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees known as UNRWA, told the Associated Press in Barcelona 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,” he said. “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.”

Civilians trapped
He said 93 people have been evacuated from the camp so far.

The United Nations says around 18,000 civilians, including a large number of children, are trapped in Yarmouk. The camp has been under government siege for nearly two years, leading to starvation and illnesses. The camp also has witnessed several rounds of ferocious and deadly fighting between government forces and militants.

Gunness said the camp has been under siege for nearly two years, adding that “things were bad and things got worse when the fighting engulfed the camp.”

Meanwhile, extremists released two dozen women and children in northern Syria late on April 6 in exchange for a rebel commander held by pro-regime forces, a monitoring group said. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the 10 children and 15 women from Shiite towns in Aleppo province had been held by Islamist faction Jaish al-Mujahideen.

In a deal mediated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the women and children were released in exchange for Yousef Zawaa, a Jaish al-Mujahideen commander who was held by armed groups loyal to Syria’s embattled regime.

The Britain-based Observatory said the women and children were from Zahraa and Nubol, two Shiite towns that have been under rebel siege for more than 18 months.        

“They were kidnapped more than a year when crossing checkpoints on their way from Nubol and Zahraa towards Damascus and Aleppo,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Zawaa was captured when he strayed into the pro-government enclave by mistake, Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Elsewhere in the country, the Observatory said government air strikes had killed at least 17 people, including five children, in Idlib province in the northwest.