Nakba day report: Thousands of Palestinian refugees under siege in Syria

Published May 16th, 2016 - 10:43 GMT
A general view showing the destruction in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital. (AFP/File)
A general view showing the destruction in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital. (AFP/File)

As Palestinians worldwide on Sunday marked the 68th anniversary of the Nakba, or "catastrophe" that occurred during the establishment of the state of Israel, Palestinian refugees displaced a second time by civil war in Syria remained under siege and under threat by ongoing armed fighting.

Some 12,000 people, including 3,000 children, have reportedly been trapped in the besieged Palestinian refugee camp of Khan al-Shih near Damascus, amid heavy shelling, barrel bombs, and sniper fire that bombarded the area in recent days, international aid organization Save the Children reported on Friday.

After hostilities escalated, the last remaining road into the camp was shut, blocking essential supplies from entering the increasingly vulnerable refugee population. The camp had been under a partial Syrian regime-imposed siege since 2013.

According to Save the Children, three youths were reportedly shot dead trying to escape the blockaded camp.

The press release quoted the head of Save the Children's Syria program as saying: "Despite the supposed ceasefire across the country, people are living in terror of siege and bombardment. People in Khan al-Shih tell us that most medicine, fuel, and flour has almost run out, and food prices have doubled in the past few days."

The situation was only expected to get worse, she added. "The roads and access to the camp must urgently be reopened and vital humanitarian aid immediately allowed in."

The report added that only one doctor and one dentist were believed to remain in the camp, but a lack of medicine, equipment, and electricity prevented them from adequately treating their patients.

The situation in another Damascus-area Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk has also continued to deteriorate, after weeks of fighting and a newly established checkpoint cut of food and water supplies to reach the dwindling population, of what was once the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria.

Renewed violence in Yarmouk in April between the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front left thousands of Palestinians trapped in their homes, accompanied by heavy shelling from Syrian regime forces as well as armed Palestinian groups.

At least four civilians were killed in the hostilities as of mid-April -- including two who were beheaded by Daesh fighters. Another five civilians, including children, were wounded by sniper fire. Some 20 buildings were also burned in the round of fighting, including a hospital.

Humanitarian aid delivery to the camp has been nearly impossible over the past three years. The estimated 5,000 to 8,000 residents remaining in Yarmouk must travel to adjacent areas to access distribution of food and hygiene materials.

Khan al-Shih and Yarmouk are among areas of active conflict where tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees have been concentrated, in addition to Muzeirib and Jillin in the southwestern city of Deraa.

After a visit to the Damascus area this week, the commissioner-general for UNRWA said the UN agency's staff were "doing their utmost to provide crucial assistance and services to Palestine refugees."

"It is essential that their destiny, their plight, as well as their needs and expectations are not forgotten. Addressing these should be a priority for all," he added.

The Syrian conflict began in the form of peaceful protests in March 2011 and quickly morphed into a civil war, leaving more than 300,000 people dead and millions displaced since.

Over half a million Palestinians lived across nine refugee camps in Syria prior to the war, the descendants of some of the 750,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes during the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Syria's civil war has seen many of these families displaced a second time, and around 50,000 Palestinians have fled the country --the majority to Lebanon and more than 17,000 to Jordan.

According to UN documentation, some 450,000 of the 560,000 refugees registered in Syria remain in the country, 280,000 of them internally displaced. Ninety-five percent of the remaining Palestinian refugees in Syria are in need of sustained humanitarian assistance.

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