UN de­mands aid ac­cess to Syria’s Yar­muk

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY RIM HAD­DAD

The U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil has de­manded hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess to Syria’s Yar­muk Pales­tinian refugee camp as res­i­dents de­scribed flee­ing in ter­ror af­ter the ar­rival of ji­hadists of the Is­lamic State group.

The ad­vance by the ex­trem­ists into the bat­tered neigh­bor­hood of south Da­m­as­cus has alarmed the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and Pales­tinian of­fi­cials, with a del­e­ga­tion from the West Bank head­ing to Syria to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion.

The Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ex­pressed deep con­cern about the sit­u­a­tion on Mon­day, said Jor­dan’s am­bas­sador Dina Kawar, who chairs the coun­cil this month.

It called “for the pro­tec­tion of civil­ians in the camp for en­sur­ing a hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess to the area in­clud­ing by pro­vid­ing life-sav­ing as­sis­tance,” Kawar said.

It also stood ready to con­sider “fur­ther mea­sures to pro­vide nec­es­sary as­sis­tance,” she added, with­out pro­vid­ing de­tails.

The call came af­ter the coun­cil held a closed-door meet­ing on the cri­sis and heard from the head of the U.N. agency for Pales­tinian refugees about the plight of the camp’s 18,000 or so re­main­ing res­i­dents.

UNRWA chief Pierre Kra­hen­buhl de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion as “more des­per­ate than ever.”

He urged coun­tries with in­flu­ence in Syria to act “for civil­ian lives to be spared and for hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess to be given.”

“What civil­ians in Yar­muk are most con­cerned about right now is bare sur­vival,” he said.

IS ji­hadists be­gan an as­sault on Yar­muk last Wed­nes­day, and were ini­tially re­pelled by Pales­tinian fighters but have since seized large swathes of the dis­trict.

Nearly 40 peo­ple have been killed in the fight­ing, ac­cord­ing to the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights.

The UK-based group said IS forces were present in the south, west and east of the camp, with Pales­tinian fighters largely con­fined to the north.

Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces have dropped bar­rel bombs on IS po­si­tions in the camp, it added.

The IS attack is just the lat­est blow for Yar­muk, which was once a thriv­ing, work­ing-class res­i­den­tial dis­trict of the cap­i­tal, home to some 160,000 peo­ple — Syr­i­ans and Pales­tini­ans.

The camp, the largest of its kind in Syria, has suf­fered re­peated bom­bard­ment and has been un­der a gov­ern­ment siege for more than 18 months.

The em­bargo was so tight at one point that there were re­ports of deaths from short­ages of food and medicines. Res­i­dents said they sur­vived on wild herbs and plants.

An agree­ment last year al­lowed a slight eas­ing of the siege, but hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess has re­mained limited.

‘In­hu­man be­hav­ior’

Late last week, sev­eral thou­sand res­i­dents were able to es­cape, with some tak­ing refuge in the gov­ern­ment-held Da­m­as­cus dis­trict of Tadamun.

They said they had en­dured the siege and shelling, but that the ad­vance by IS was the last straw.

“I left the camp de­spite my­self,” said Um Usama, a 40-yearold, who lived in Yar­muk for 17 years.

“I’d stayed on de­spite the bomb­ings and famine,” she said, at a school serv­ing as a shel­ter.

“Daesh’s ar­rival meant de­struc­tion and massacre,” she added, us­ing an Ara­bic acro­nym for IS.

“Their be­hav­ior’s not hu­man and their reli­gion is not ours,” added the thin woman with sunken eyes.

Other res­i­dents said IS had car­ried out be­head­ings and beat­ings.

At least seven Pales­tinian fighters were ex­e­cuted by the ji­hadists, in­clud­ing two who were be­headed, the Ob­ser­va­tory said.

The plight of the camp’s res­i­dents has raised con­cern in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries, where both pres­i­dent Mah­mud Ab­bas and the ri­val Ha­mas move­ment have called for Yar­muk to be spared.

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