2,000 evacuated from Syria's Yarmouk after IS advance
Around 2,000 people have been evacuated from the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus after the Islamic State group seized large parts of it, a Palestinian official told AFP Sunday.
"Around 400 families, approximately 2,000 people, were able to leave the camp on Friday and Saturday via two secure roads to the Zahira district, which is under army control," said Anwar Abdul Hadi, a Palestine Liberation Organisation official.
Abdul Hadi said Syrian troops had helped in the evacuation, which came as Palestinian forces battled to hold back IS fighters who had reportedly, along with fighters from al-Nusra Front, captured around 90 percent of the camp as of Saturday.
He said most of those evacuated from the camp were being hosted in government shelters, with at least 25 wounded taken to two hospitals in Damascus.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, confirmed that "hundreds" of people had been evacuated from the camp.
The group said at least 26 people, including civilians as well as fighters from IS and Palestinian factions, had been killed in the camp since Wednesday.
Among the deaths in the fighting were at least two Palestinian militants reportedly beheaded by IS, according to the Observatory and militant social media accounts.
Nusra and IS are fighting on the same side in Yarmouk after Aknaf Bait al-Maqdis, a group based in the camp who are currently battling IS, failed to come to Nusra’s aid during a fight last month between the al-Qaeda linked group and the Syrian Free Army, a Yarmouk-based journalist told MEE this week.
As gun battles between IS, Nusra and Aknaf Bait al-Maqdis fighters have ensued in recent days, the Syrian government has bombed the camp with mortar shells from the air, the journalist said.
Palestinian officials and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA have urged humanitarian access to the camp.
Though called a camp, Yarmouk, established in the 1950s, was home to 160,000 Palestinian refugees of which many were second or third generation, and was hardly distinguishable from many other neighbourhoods in Syria when the civil war started in 2011.
Since December 2012, the area has been under a government siege, preventing the entry of food and goods which has brought its residents “to the brink of starvation,” according to an Amnesty International report from last year.
In January 2014, an agreement was brokered with the Syrian government to allow humanitarian access to the camp, but the agreement broke down last March and UNRWA’s ability to supply the camp has since been limited.
According to the UN Reliefs and Work Agency (UNRWA), a steady supply of water has not been available since September and, during cold snaps in recent months, residents have burned their clothes and furniture for heat.
More than 170 people have reportedly died from dehydration, severe malnutrition, or disease since the start of the siege.
The 2,000 residents who fled in recent days around among an estimated 18,000 thought to remain in the camp.
Syrian forces remain outside the camp, and sources said troops had set up additional checkpoints around Yarmouk after the fighting began.