More than a dozen civilians have been reported killed during intensive bombardment on Yarmouk refugee camp that began on 19 April as Syrian government forces aim to retake territory held by Islamic State south of Damascus.
Six were killed in heavy shelling in the camp on Tuesday night.Hundreds of civilians are believed to be trapped in or unwilling to leave the camp, while thousands fled to surrounding areas when the military campaign started. At least 15 pro-government fighters have been killed, as well as 19 Islamic State militants, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
On Monday, the Palestine Liberation Organization called for an end to the bombing of Yarmouk camp after five consecutive days of fierce violence.Activists called on international bodies including the International Committee of the Red Cross to intervene to allow for the evacuation of elderly persons and other vulnerable populations from the camp.
At the outset of the military campaign, activists in Yarmouk called on opposition groups controlling the areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahem surrounding the camp to lift their blockade on Yarmouk’s southern exits and allow for the safe passage of civilians.The United Nations warned of a “rapidly deteriorating” situation in the camp.
“Supplies of food and medicine are running low. There is no running water and very little electricity. Healthcare options are limited and there are no doctors remaining in the area,” Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestine Refugees, stated last week.The Palestinian civilians reported killed during the ongoing military campaign in Yarmouk include Marwan Mahmoud Aqla, a man in his 70s originally from Tiberias in Palestine, was killed by government fire on 22 April. Muhammad Ratib Fadel Aylouti, another elderly Palestinian originally from Tiberias, was killed in bombing on 21 April. Muhanad Salih Amouri, and his elderly father Salih Mahmoud Amouri, originally from Lubiya in Palestine, were killed on 20 April. A dozen Palestinians fighting alongside Syrian government forces have also been reported killed, according to the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria.
Islamic State fighters reportedly executed a pro-government Palestinian fighter captured in southern Damascus.
Palestinian capital in Syria
Once home to 150,000 residents, Yarmouk was formerly the largest Palestinian population center in the country before it became an arena of fighting in December 2012. Thousands fled after rebel forces infiltrated the camp and its central mosque was hit in government airstrikes.
Since then, electricity and water supplies to the camp have been cut and a complete siege was imposed by government forces and allied groups in July 2013.
Dozens in the camp starved to death that following winter, and many more were killed during clashes and ongoing shelling and strikes on Yarmouk.
In April 2015, the camp was infiltrated by fighters with the Islamic State group and various armed factions have continued to battle for control of this southern gateway to Syria’s capital.
UNRWA has been unable to deliver humanitarian aid directly to Yarmouk since Islamic State seized the camp in 2015.
Humanitarian aid was choked off even further after Islamic State fighters seized the last checkpoint in operation between Yarmouk and its surrounding areas the following year.
“Checkpoint of death”
Known as “the checkpoint of death,” 900 UNRWA students have “risked their lives to pass through it every day to get to school on the other side,” the agency stated on Monday.
“Six weeks ago the checkpoint was closed and when it opened briefly two weeks later, the majority of the 900 children made the painful decision to leave their family homes and move in with relatives and friends on the other side, to ensure militants would never again block their access to school,” UNRWA added.
There were approximately 560,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria before the unrest that began in early 2011 and eventually erupted into a civil war which it is estimated to have claimed more than half a million lives and displaced more than half of the country’s population.
Nearly 4,000 Palestinians have been reported killed or have died as a result of the ongoing war, according to the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria.
Some 120,000 Palestinian refugees have fled the country, according to UNRWA, and those who remain in the country require sustained humanitarian assistance “to meet their most basic food and shelter needs.”
The agency warned that it may run out of emergency food aid for a million Palestinian refugees in Gaza after the Trump administration withheld $305 million in funding in an attempt to force Palestinians to concede their rights.
The United States was the largest single donor to UNRWA before the cuts were announced in January.
This story was updated after initial publishing to reflect new civilian casualties and to remove reference to a Palestinian couple and their baby believed killed on 21 April, after it was reported that they survived under the rubble of their home for six days.