Palestinian Envoy to UN Urges Security Council to Help Besieged Refugees

UN official: Situation at Palestinian refugee camp in Syria 'beyond inhumane'; 18,000 civilians remain trapped in Yarmouk camp, which is under attack by Islamic State.

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Residents wait to receive humanitarian aid at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, in Damascus March 11, 2015.
Residents wait to receive humanitarian aid at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, in Damascus March 11, 2015. Credit: Reuters

The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations has urged the Security Council to take action to ensure safe passage for up to 18,000 Palestinians besieged in a refugee camp in the Syrian capital, a situation that a UN official described as "beyond inhumane."

The council held an emergency meeting Monday on the crisis at the Yarmouk camp, which is now mainly controlled by the Islamic State group.

The Palestinian ambassador, Riyad Mansour, told reporters that saving the refugees is his government's top priority. He appealed to all nations to help the refugees relocate to safer areas in Syria or in other countries.

Mansour said about 2,000 of the estimated 18,000 refugees in Yarmouk had made it to safety on their own.

The Security Council was being briefed behind closed doors by the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

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 also said Syrian government's air force has dropped several barrel bombs on the camp since Sunday.

Dozens of Palestinians gathered Monday in front of the UN headquarters in Gaza City to show their support for the refugee camp in Syria, NBC News reported.

Islamic State militants stormed the camp Wednesday, marking the extremist group's deepest foray yet into Damascus. 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 UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees known as UNRWA, told The Associated Press in Barcelona late Sunday 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."

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."

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