Red Cross Calls for Urgent Humanitarian Aid for Yarmouk Camp

At least 16,000 civilians are estimated to remain in the camp in southern Damascus. Before the war, the camp was home to 150,000 Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

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Yarmouk refugee camp in March.
Yarmouk refugee camp in March. Credit: Reuters

The International Committee of the Red Cross called on Thursday for immediate access to Palestinian civilians trapped under siege in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, which is under fire from both government forces and the Islamic State extremist group.

Yarmouk has been under a government imposed blockade since 2013, when rebel forces gained a foothold in the camp, which is on the southern tip of the capital Damascus. Humanitarian access has been very limited. The Red Cross was last allowed to enter in October.

"Humanitarian needs are growing by the day in the camp, which has been hard hit by four years of conflict and cut off from outside help for long periods," the Red Cross said.

At least 16,000 civilians are estimated to remain in the camp. Before the war, the camp was home to 150,000 Palestinians, refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Amnesty International said at least 18 civilians had been killed over the past week as Islamic State militants began their violent take-over of the camp. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 48 people in total had died.

The human rights group warned that the Syrian government has intensified its counter attack and is using highly inaccurate barrel bombs.

Palestinian armed groups are also fighting, trying to push back the Islamic State militia, which has reportedly carried out beheadings in the southern parts of the camp it has seized.

"For civilians still trapped in Yarmouk life is an agonizing struggle for survival. After enduring a crippling two-year-long government-imposed siege, now they are pinned down by sniper fire, fearing for their lives as shelling and aerial attacks escalate," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui from Amnesty.

Meanwhile, Palestinian factions were holding talks in Damascus, with the hopes of creating a unity front to face the assault by the extremists.

Some factions have backed the Syrian government in the civil war while others
are allied with rebel forces, but all say they are opposed to the Islamic State group.

"The rival Palestinian factions have agreed to unite their ranks and form a united force to confront and push back the Islamic State from the camp," a Palestinian source who attended the meetings told DPA.

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