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(Ismael Mohamad / United Press International)

Thousands of Palestinian refugees flee mounting Damascus-area violence, says UNRWA

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People queue to buy bread in Aleppo, Syria

(George Kurian / IRIN)

Thousands of Palestinians have fled their homes amid escalating violence near the Syrian capital Damascus, and many are thought to be moving toward Lebanon.

UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, said in a 17 December statement:

Over the past several days, Syrians and the over 150,000 Palestine refugee resident in Yarmouk, a suburb of Damascus, have experienced particularly intense armed engagements involving the use of heavy weapons and aircraft. Credible reports point to civilian deaths, injuries and destruction of property in Yarmouk. There are also waves of significant displacement as Yarmouk residents, including UNRWA staff and their families, scramble to seek safety as the armed conflict persists.

The organization said that it is currently “housing over 2,600 displaced persons in its facilities and Damascus-area schools, and the number is growing rapidly.”

The statement added:

Palestine refugees are also fleeing beyond Damascus. Although the scale and direction of this movement cannot be precisely determined, some have made their way to Lebanon. Initial reports indicate that well over 2,000 people have attempted or are attempting to enter Lebanon.

On Sunday, an airstrike by a Syrian government jet in the Yarmouk area reportedly killed at least eight people. Today, rebels were reported to have claimed to control the area, which has a mixed Palestinian and Syrian population.

Palestinian refugees in Syria amid national humanitarian disaster

In a 16 December “situational overview,” UNRWA provided more information on the plight of Palestinian refugees across Syria:

Palestine refugees continue to struggle with rising food, commodity and fuel prices, and increasing levels of displacement are compounding needs. Over 1,000 refugees from Ein el Tal camp in Aleppo fled to surrounding villages and Hama due to clashes in the immediate vicinity of the camp, and refugees living in Yarmouk, Damascus are currently attempting to flee the area due to intensive and sustained clashes in the area itself. UNRWA has prepositioned winter items in neighbouring locations to meet the most immediate needs of displaced Palestine refugees.

UNRWA’s rapid-needs assessment was completed last week, indicating that of a total population of 525,000, approximately 360,000 individuals are unable to meet basic food needs and have requested assistance from UNRWA. Ninety-nine per cent of all refugees are in need of heating fuel and 90 per cent are in need of food assistance.

The Palestinian population faces the same acute crisis as the Syrian population. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled their homes amid increasingly horrific violence. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that one million refugees could enter surrounding countries from Syria over the next few months.

Today the UN World Food Program warned that escalating violence was making food distribution increasingly difficult. It is estimated that 2.5 million Syrians – some 12 percent of the population – currently need emergency food assistance.