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IS repelled from parts of Syria's Yarmouk: PLO

The UN Security Council has demanded humanitarian access to the Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees
A demolished building in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus on 6 April, 2015 (AFP)

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said on Tuesday that Islamic State (IS) militants have retreated from parts of Yarmouk, the largest camp for Palestinian refugees in Syria.

"IS now controls only 60 percent of Yarmouk camp after they had seized 90 percent of it," Anwar Abdel-Hadi, who oversees the PLO's affairs in Syria, told Palestine's official radio station on Tuesday.

Abdel-Hadi said that clashes are still ongoing between IS militants and Palestinian fighters inside Yarmouk camp.

"[IS] militants are firing at anyone who tries to enter or exit the camp," he said.

There are at least 16,000 people still trapped inside, although local activists groups claim this number could be even higher.  

There are also at least 3,500 children still in the camp, Save the Children said on Tuesday.

“What we are seeing in Yarmouk is a travesty. Palestinians inside Syria have attempted to walk an increasingly perilous tightrope to remain out of the conflict in Syria," said Save the Children's Regional Director Roger Hearn.

"For this they have been under siege, bombed, starved and slaughtered. The Yarmouk that I engaged with when working in Syria was a vibrant and dynamic place of hope. It is now a place of terror. The real tragedy is that Palestinians inside Syria have no place to run and no safe haven.”

Aid workers on the ground report witnessing many people lying in the street, with aid organisations and medics unable to help them because of the fighting. 

The Yarmouk camp – Syria's largest Palestinian refugee camp, was once home to tens of thousands of Syrians and Palestinians - located on Damascus' outskirts.

Violence flared in the camp earlier this month, when IS militants stormed it and clashed with the Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis militant group inside.

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, at least 12 people have been killed in the violence.

Around 166 Palestinian refugees starved to death in mid-2013 when Syrian government forces besieged the camp.

Prior to the Syrian conflict, Palestinians living in Syria were estimated at some 581,000 – one third of whom had been living in the Yarmouk camp, according to the UN.

UN Security Council demands access to Yarmouk

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council on Monday demanded humanitarian access to the Yarmouk refugee camp.

"The members call for the protection of civilians in the camp (and) for ensuring humanitarian access to the area, including by providing life-saving assistance and ensuring the safe passage and evacuation of civilians," Jordan's UN ambassador Dina Kawar, who chairs the 15-member Security Council, told reporters after a meeting on the issue.

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 UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

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 Yarmouk are most concerned about right now is bare survival," he said.

He said "concerted action" by council members was urgently needed to alleviate the suffering of civilians, including nearly 3,500 children.

Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour also urged the Security Council on Monday to take action to secure a safe passage for the refugees in the camp.

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

The Britain-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.

Late last week, 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-year-old, 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 behaviour'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 militants, 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 Yarmouk to be spared.

A delegation led by PLO official Ahmed Majdalani was due to hold talks in Damascus later on Tuesday.

Majdalani told AFP ahead of the trip that he would talk to Syrian officials about securing a corridor to allow aid in and civilians out.

Syria has been ravaged by a deadly civil war since 2011, when the government of President Bashar al-Assad violently cracked down on anti-government demonstrations.

More than 220,000 people have been killed in the conflict to date, according to the latest UN figures.

The unrest created by the civil war paved the way for movements such as IS to gain a foothold in the region.