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Armed Conflicts

At Least 18 Already Killed in Yarmouk Attacks: Amnesty International

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 9 2015 (IPS) - At least 18 civilians have already been killed in the attack on the Syrian refugee camp of Yarmouk, according to Amnesty International.

The Palestinian refugee camp, on the outskirts of Damascus, was besieged by members of the so-called Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra last week. By Apr. 4, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 90 percent of the camp was controlled by militants.

Amnesty reported Wednesday that those living in the camp have come under sniper fire and clashes between armed groups, as well as shelling and barrel bombing by Syrian government forces. Fighting in the camp, which houses around 18,000 refugees, has largely been between IS and members of Palestinian militia group Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.

Residents told Amnesty 25 barrel bombs have been dropped on the camp, mostly during night hours.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, accused the Syrian government of committing a “war crime” in dropping barrel bombs on the camp.

“The use of barrel bombs against a besieged and starving civilian population is yet another demonstration of the Syrian government flouting international humanitarian law and its callousness towards civilians,” he said in a statement on Amnesty International’s website.

“Shelling and dropping barrel bombs on a populated civilian area is a war crime. All such attacks must end immediately.”

Amnesty reported a 12-year-old girl killed by a sniper, and a humanitarian worker shot in crossfire, were among at least 18 killed in Yarmouk in the last week, and warned many more deaths were on the way if fighting continued.

“Thousands more are at risk as Syrian government forces have intensified the shelling and aerial bombardment of the camp in response to the IS takeover of the area, including by dropping barrel bombs,” Amnesty said in a statement on its website.

Fighting may soon intensify, with reports the Syrian government has offered to arm Palestinian forces fighting IS militia. Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Official Anwar Abdul Hadi said Tuesday that “Syrian authorities are ready to support the Palestinian fighters in a number of ways, including militarily, to push IS out of the camp.”

Amnesty claimed no relief organisations remained in the camp, and that Syria government and IS forces have blocked medical and humanitarian assistance. One of Yarmouk’s two medical facilities was hit by a missile on the first day of the siege.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) wrote on social media Wednesday that food packages distributed to refugees in the camp have run out. On Twitter, UNRWA said it was assisting 94 civilians who had managed to escape Yarmouk overnight and take refuge in a school.

Amnesty’s Sahraoui said civilians faced “an agonising 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,” he said.

“Immediate and unfettered access to Yarmouk by independent humanitarian agencies is desperately needed to alleviate this relentless suffering.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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