Last updated: 31 January, 2014

Aid continues to enter starving Yarmuk camp

The United Nations distributed food in the Syrian capital’s besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp for a second day Friday in a bid to help tens of thousands of trapped civilians.

The aid distribution comes after months of siege by the army that has caused shortages of food and medicines, leading to the deaths of 86 people, according to a monitoring group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that more than 100 people deemed “humanitarian cases” were evacuated from the camp on Friday by the Red Crescent and taken to local hospitals.

UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) spokesman Chris Gunness said an aid convoy entered the camp in south Damascus in the morning.

“UNRWA staff carried out another full day of food aid distributions in Yarmuk… handing out 980 food parcels,” he said.

“This follows the distribution of 1,026 food parcels yesterday. Since we were able to enter the camp on 18th January, we have distributed a total of 2,144 food parcels.”

Yarmuk is largely in the hands of rebel forces, and has been under army siege since June, making it nearly impossible for food and medicines to enter or for residents to leave.

Residents have spoken of eating grass, cats, and dogs in a bid to stay alive.

The camp began as a home for Palestinian refugees, but long ago evolved into a bustling district housing some 150,000 Palestinians, as well as many Syrians.

But now just an estimated 18,000 Palestinians remain in the camp, much of which has been destroyed by fighting.

Gunness said UNRWA appreciated the efforts of the Syrian government and others in facilitating the aid delivery.

“These distributions demonstrate that the extraordinary suffering in Yarmuk and other closed areas of Syria can be addressed if all parties to the conflict fulfil their obligations to protect civilians,” he said.

He said UNRWA stood ready to provide food for all the estimated 18,000 Palestinian civilians still in the camp.

The food parcels contain enough provisions to feed a family for 10 days, and Gunness said it was “imperative that continuous access to Yarmuk is authorised and supported.”

Gunness said “chaotic scenes” accompanied Thursday’s aid distribution — the first since January 21 — as thousands of residents tried to get food.

Yarmuk is one of a number of rebel-held areas where army blockades have left trapped civilians in desperate straits.

The United Nations has also been trying to negotiate access for humanitarian aid to the besieged Old City of Homs in central Syria.