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Protests in Gaza and West Bank in solidarity with besieged Yarmouk

Jan. 4, 2014 7:21 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 5, 2014 9:49 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Protests in solidarity with Palestinian refugees in besieged Yarmouk camp took place in Gaza and El-Bireh in the West Bank on Saturday.

Dozens of Palestinians, including many children, erected a solidarity camp in front of the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza.

The rally was held in solidarity with the people and children of Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, which has been under a siege by regime forces since July of last year.

Participants called upon the international community to act to save children, women, and the elderly from starvation.

"The children of Yarmouk camp in Syria are dying of hunger and we demand they be provided with water and food," read a sign held at the protest camp in Gaza.

A young protester at the rally, Saima Rana, told Ma'an, "We came in solidarity with the children of Yarmouk camp in Syria who are dying of hunger. We demand their release (from the siege) and that food be allowed to enter in order to allow them to survive."

Another child protester, Muhammad Qwaider, called on children around the world to protest in solidarity with Palestinian children in Yarmouk camp who are dying of hunger as a result of the ongoing events in Syria.

A protester named Hekmat Yousef told Ma'an, "We are here today in solidarity with our people in Yarmouk camp whose families have been slowly dying since the beginning of the events in Syria," adding that, "the refugees in the camp have been subjected to a genocide as a result of the restrictions on importing food supplies."

He called for the camps to become neutral zones in the face of the Syrian conflict, and he stressed that Palestinian youth should have an active role in supporting the people of Yarmouk camp in the event that the siege is not lifted.

Abu Mujahid told Ma'an, "From the heart of the siege that we face (in Gaza) we send a message in support of our people in the refugee camps in Syria and especially to Yarmouk."

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said in a speech at the solidarity that that, "Our message today is a message of solidarity through which we want to emphasize that we stand on the side of the Palestinians in the camps in Syria who face killing, abuse, and starvation."

Abu Zuhri noted that from the beginning of the conflict, Hamas has insisted on the need for the Palestinian camps to remain a neutral in the conflict.

"The position of Hamas is clear that we are guests in Syria and all parties must respect our neutrality amid the fighting."

He also called for the need to accept the proposed initiatives and put forth by the Palestinian factions, and that could help lead to a cessation of hostilities and would save the Palestinians from "death."

Reports of widespread starvation and a general lack of supplies in Yarmouk refugee camp have intensified in recent months.

After rebels seized control of Yarmouk in December 2012, the camp became embroiled in the armed fighting taking place across Syria and came under heavy regime assault.

Regime forces eventually encircled the camp and in July imposed a siege on the camp, leading to a rapid deterioration of living conditions.

El-Bireh

In the West Bank, meanwhile, dozens of students protested at the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization and called for immediate and urgent intervention to save the Palestinian refugees in Syria.

Protesters also accused the PLO of negligence in dealing with the crisis facing Palestinians in Syria.

The sit-in in the city of El-Bireh focused on the plight of the refugees of Yarmouk camp, in light of the death of 30 refugees from starvation in recent weeks.

Youth activist Hazem Abu Hilal called upon the PLO to stand up to its responsibilities regarding the plight of Palestinian refugees.

"It is inconceivable that thirty martyrs have died of starvation in one month, and it is unprecedented in the history of the Palestinian revolution," he said.

Abu Hilal accused the PLO of negligence toward the Palestinian refugees in Syria, stressing that the group is focusing on negotiations with Israel to the exclusion of other issues facing the Palestinian people.

From his part, writer and political analyst Imad Musa said that the sit-in sends a clear message of the need to support the refugees in Syria and he called on all the Palestinian people to act to save them.

Musa asked: "Where is the United Nations? Where is Ban Ki-moon? This camp is under the protection of the United Nations, so why has a safe passage not been opened so far to allow the introduction of humanitarian aid to the camp?"

Fatah leader Abbas Zaki told Ma'an in mid-October 2013 that Yarmouk's population of 250,000 had dwindled to 18,000 after two and a half years of conflict in Syria.

The Syrian conflict, which began as peaceful protests in March 2011 but developed into a civil war, has killed more than 120,000 people and prompted millions to flee their homes.

At least 1,500 Palestinians have been killed in the ongoing Syria conflict, and around 250,000 Palestinian refugees have been forced to leave their refugee camps in Syria due to violence in the country.

Prior to the conflict, 600,000 Palestinian refugees lived in Syria.

Between 7-800,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes inside Israel during the 1948 conflict that led to the creation of the State of Israel, and today their descendants number around five million, spread across the world.
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