U.N. Appeals for End to Siege of Damascus Palestinian Camp

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees on Friday called for the lifting of the Yarmouk camp in Damascus, saying thousands are trapped there and in dire need of aid.

The Syrian army has besieged the Yarmouk Palestinian camp for a year as battles rage inside the sprawling suburb in southern Damascus almost daily between rebels and pro-regime fighters.

The violence has prompted the exodus of tens of thousands of its 170,000 residents, with 20,000 still trapped inside the camp facing hardship and hunger, UNRWA said.

"It has been one year since Yarmouk, the vast suburb of Damascus that was home to the largest Palestine refugee community in Syria, was engulfed by fighting," said commissioner general Filippo Grandi.

"The situation has progressively deteriorated: 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," he said in a statement.

Grandi said humanitarian conditions in the besieged camp "worsening dramatically" and that UNRWA is "unable to help those trapped inside".

"If this situation is not addressed urgently, it may be too late to save the lives of thousands of people including children," he warned.

Grandi said armed groups who entered Yarmuk at the end of 2012 and the siege laid by the Syrian army "have thwarted all our humanitarian efforts."

He said that several initiatives to lift the sift had failed.

The Syrian regime and rebels trying to topple it "must ensure that food, medical supplies and other humanitarian assistance be allowed into the area," he said.

"I especially count on the government of Syria to respond positively to my appeal and to do everything in its power to facilitate our efforts," Grandi added.

Once a buzzing commercial and cultural hub, Yarmouk has suffered massive destruction because of fighting, near-daily shelling and air raids.

Activists trapped in Yarmouk have shared harrowing accounts of hunger and medical shortages.

In November the Palestine Liberation Organisation said it was in talks with the Syrian government about ending the siege.

Syria is officially home to nearly 500,000 Palestinian refugees. Half of them have been displaced by the deadly conflict that broke out in March 2011, and which has since killed some 126,000 people.

Source: Agence France Presse

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