Yarmouk camp in Damascus affront to humanity, says UN

Urgent plea for humanitarian access to Palestinian camp invaded by IS militants

 Palestinian families  at a makeshift centre in Damascus, Syria, after being evacuated from Yarmouk camp in southern Damascus. Photograph: EPA/SANA

Palestinian families at a makeshift centre in Damascus, Syria, after being evacuated from Yarmouk camp in southern Damascus. Photograph: EPA/SANA

 

The UN agency for refugees has made an urgent plea for humanitarian access to the Damascus suburb of Yarmouk, which was invaded last week by Islamic State militants.

“The lives of civilians in Yarmouk have never been more profoundly threatened,” said the UN Relief and Works Agency, which has called for a ceasefire to help civilians flee and to allow the delivery of food and water to the neighbourhood, which is home to thousands of mostly Palestinian refugees.

Residents of the camp have no access to running water, food supplies and medical care and have endured more than two years of a siege that has led to starvation and disease.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said yesterday: “The situation in Yarmouk is an affront to the humanity of all of us, a source of universal shame. Yarmouk is a test, a challenge for the international community. We must not fail. The credibility of the international system itself is at stake.”

Yesterday it was reported that 94 people, including 43 women and 20 children, had been evacuated from Yarmouk.

Anwar Abdul Hadi, a Palestinian Liberation Organisation spokesman in Damascus said: “Around 400 families, 2,000 people, were able to leave the camp Friday and Saturday via two secure roads to the Zahira district, which is under [Syrian] army control.” Syrian troops helped in the evacuation, and the refugees have been given shelter in schools and other public buildings, he said.

There are still 18,000 people left in the camp, a mixture of Palestinians and Syrians, said UNRWA. Palestinian faction Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, an offshoot of Hamas, and the rebel Free Syrian Army, initially repelled the Islamic State attack which began on Wednesday and held the camp until they ran out of ammunition.

At least 26 people, both fighters and civilians, have been killed since the beginning of the offensive. Among the dead were two Palestinian fighters beheaded by Islamic State which has, according to human rights activists, kidnapped another 74 whose names were on a “wanted list”.

PLO executive committee member Saeb Erekat called for the evacuation of the civilians. “Reports of kidnappings, beheadings and mass killings are coming out from Yarmouk,” Mr Erekat said.

The district is surrounded by a ring of anti-government irregulars including fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army and an outer ring of government troops.